A cuticle infection, or paronychia, is an infection of the skin surrounding the nail bed, and can be caused by injury or damage to the nail bed. It is often characterized by red, swollen, warm skin surrounding the nail, which may include pus as well. It may also be accompanied by a fever or swollen glands, and if this occurs, it is important to get to the doctor immediately to treat a systemic infection with antibiotics.
A cuticle infection may be a one-time acute occurrence, or it may be a chronic condition affecting more than one nail. A doctor can diagnose a chronic cuticle infection. One common way that an infection of the cuticle occurs is by getting a manicure with unclean tools, or by clipping the cuticles and causing injury. If you go to a salon to get manicures or pedicures, be sure that the tools such as nail clippers and files are sterilized, or just bring your own.
In addition, it is often not necessary to clip the cuticles. Instead, simply soften them in warm water or cuticle oil and gently push them back with an orange stick. The cuticles will not then be cut and left open for viruses and bacteria to enter. If a cut or cuticle infection occurs, immediately wash it with soap and water, and keep the area clean. Remember to never bite the nails or any hangnails; gently clip them off instead.
Application of over-the-counter antibiotic ointment can be effective at treating a minor cuticle infection. In addition, it is often recommended that one soak the cuticle infection in a small bath of warm water and epsom salt for approximately 20 minutes per day in order to draw out the infection. Dry the nails thoroughly afterward, and if the cuticle infection is on the foot, apply clean cotton socks and keep the feet dry.
With this treatment, the infection should begin to clear up within a few days. If it doesn't, or it appears to worsen, it will be necessary to visit a doctor for antibiotics. These antibiotics may be a cream or an oral antibiotic; no matter what the doctor prescribes, it is necessary to complete the whole dose to treat the infection and prevent it from recurring or becoming a chronic condition. In the future, do your best to keep nails clean and dry, and the cuticles free of cuts or injury.