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Chronic paronychia - Nail and Distal Digit
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed

Chronic paronychia - Nail and Distal Digit

Contributors: Shari Lipner MD, PhD, Susan Burgin MD, Bertrand Richert MD, Robert Baran MD
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed


Chronic paronychia is defined as inflammation of a nail fold (the skin surrounding the fingernails) that lasts longer than 6 weeks. Symptoms may include redness, swelling, and sometimes pain. Fluctuance is absent. There may be disruption or absence of the cuticle, and protracted cases may manifest with changes in the nail plate itself, including grooves and ridges. Nail plate involvement signals damage to the nail matrix, which lies deep to and proximal to the proximal nail fold. Acute paronychia with marked tenderness, erythema, and even abscess formation may complicate chronic paronychia or precede it.

There is debate as to whether chronic paronychia is primarily an infectious or an inflammatory disease process; the current view is that chronic paronychia is a species of chronic irritant or allergic hand dermatitis. Evidence includes frequent association with occupational exposures in dishwashers, bartenders, laundry workers, nurses, swimmers, fishmongers, and cooks and a study demonstrating the superiority of treatment with potent topical steroids over systemic antifungals. Women are more frequently affected than men. It usually affects multiple fingernails.

Infectious pathogens also play a role in this condition. The chronic inflammatory process compromises the nail fold barrier to entry of microorganisms. Superinfection with bacteria may result in acute paronychia as a sequela. Fungal colonization and/or infection, especially with Candida albicans, is common. In one study, Candida was cultured in over 90% of patients with chronic paronychia.

Certain drugs can cause drug-induced paronychia (potentially either acute or chronic). These include retinoids (isotretinoin, acitretin), methotrexate, antiretroviral protease inhibitors (indinavir, lamivudine), and epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor inhibitors (cetuximab, gefitinib, lapatinib). In some cases, drug-induced paronychia is associated with periungual lobular capillary hemangiomas (pyogenic granulomas).

Diabetes mellitus, immunosuppression, and inflammatory dermatoses are risk factors for developing chronic paronychia.


B37.2 – Candidiasis of skin and nail

200744008 – Chronic paronychia

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Last Reviewed:07/25/2017
Last Updated:02/14/2022
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Patient Information for Chronic paronychia - Nail and Distal Digit
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Contributors: Medical staff writer


Paronychia, commonly known as nail infection, is inflammation of the region of the finger or toe where the nail starts to grow, which is called the proximal nail fold (PNF). Paronychia is usually the result of a bacterial infection but can be caused by a yeast (Candida) or virus, typically the herpes simplex virus (HSV). This inflammation may occur in the short term or may be a long-term problem or one that keeps coming back (chronic).

Chronic paronychia occurs most often in people whose hands are constantly or often exposed to moisture. This type of nail infection may be complicated by the addition of a fungal infection, commonly due to a type of yeast called Candida, and this may lead to abnormal nail growth.

Who’s At Risk

Chronic paronychia is most common in adult women and those who work in places where their hands are kept moist, such as food handlers, but it has been seen in infants who suck on the thumb or fingers or whose caregivers over-trim the infant's fingernails.

Signs & Symptoms

The proximal nail fold can be swollen, red, and have no cuticle (the strip of hardened skin at the base and sides of a fingernail or toenail). One or more nails may be affected.

Self-Care Guidelines

Avoid water and chemical exposure to prevent symptoms of chronic paronychia.

When to Seek Medical Care

See your doctor for a checkup if you notice signs of bacterial nail infection (proximal nail fold is red, swollen, painful, and may contain pus).


For chronic paronychia, your doctor may:
  • Prescribe a topical steroid.
  • Prescribe a topical antifungal medication.
  • Prescribe antibiotics if a bacterial infection is present.
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Chronic paronychia - Nail and Distal Digit
A medical illustration showing key findings of Chronic paronychia : Absent cuticle, Nail fold erythema and edema, Nail pain, Periungual fingers, Scattered nails or distal digits
Clinical image of Chronic paronychia - imageId=950402. Click to open in gallery.  caption: 'Edematous and erythematous proximal nail fold with loss of the cuticle. Note also significant nail dystrophy and dyspigmentation (possible onychomycosis in association).'
Edematous and erythematous proximal nail fold with loss of the cuticle. Note also significant nail dystrophy and dyspigmentation (possible onychomycosis in association).
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