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Paronychia in Children: Care Instructions


Paronychia (say "pair-oh-NY-kee-uh") is an inflammation of the skin around a fingernail or toenail. It happens when germs enter through a break in the skin. If your child had an abscess, the doctor may have made a small cut in the infected area to drain the pus.

Most cases of paronychia improve in a few days. But watch your child's symptoms and follow your doctor's advice. Though rare, a mild case can turn into something more serious and infect the entire finger or toe. Also, it is possible for an infection to return.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • If your doctor told you how to care for your child's infected nail, follow your doctor's instructions. If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice:
    • Wash the area with clean water 2 times a day. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
    • You may cover the area with a thin layer of antibiotic ointment and a non-stick bandage.
    • Apply more antibiotic ointment and replace the bandage as needed.
  • If the doctor prescribed antibiotics for your child, give them as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Give your child an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not give a child two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Prop up the toe or finger so that it is higher than the level of your child's heart. This will help with pain and swelling.
  • Apply heat. Put a warm water bottle or a warm cloth on the finger or toe. Keep a cloth between the warm water bottle and your child's skin.
  • Soak the area in warm water twice a day for 15 minutes each time. After soaking, dry the area well and apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment. Put on a new bandage.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has signs of new or worsening infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the infected skin.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.