What Is Paronychia and What Should You Do About It?
A Trip to the Water Park Led to an Infection
I recently had a very serious nail infection, and I am hoping that my experience will help other people. What started as a fun weekend at a local water park ended in two surgeries and a hospital stay. Nail infections, known as paronychias, are actually very common and anyone can get them in their toe nails and/or finger nails. Paronychias are usually caused by common bacteria entering the body around nail beds after they have been injured.
Upon leaving the water park, I noticed the skin just below my fingernail (towards the top knuckle) was red and sore. I figured I had just bumped it on something and didn't think much about it. By the next morning I could tell it was infected. I really thought it was no big deal; the area inflamed was still rather small. I decided to treat it with Neosporin at home and told myself that if it wasn't better by Friday I would call the doctor.
Friday came and it wasn't any better—but I didn't have time to call the doctor. By Monday it was getting much worse, so I finally made an appointment, nine days after the infection started. It turns out that with paronychias you really need to get to the doctor within a couple of days of the infection setting in.
Visiting the Doctor
At the appointment the doctor really didn't know what was wrong with it and seemed rather annoyed at my being there. Begrudgingly he prescribed some antibiotics and sent me on my way. By Friday of that week I knew my finger was no better. The next Monday I went back to the doctor. He was very surprised to see me. He still didn't know what was going on, but recommended I see a hand surgeon. That sounded like a bit much to me, so I asked if we could try another round of antibiotics. He readily agreed. As it turns out this was a big mistake.
Visiting the Hand Surgeon
By the end of the third week of dealing with this persistent finger infection my finger was no better—and actually getting worse each day. On the next Tuesday I finally made it to the hand surgeon who instantly diagnosed it as a paronychia and said I needed surgery as soon as possible. It was a few days before I could line it up. Finally, after one month, I had surgery.
Surgery # 1
The surgery on Friday involved making an incision along the base of the nail all the way across my finger, which was supposed to allow the infection to drain. They also removed my finger nail. I was heavily sedated for the surgery, but woke up just 30 minutes later with a bandaged finger. After a couple of hours in recovery I was sent on my way with instructions to soak my finger several times a day and take antibiotics for a week.
Three days later, on Monday, my finger was worse than ever, and the infection was spreading from the tip of my finger down to my middle knuckle. It turns out paronychias are a lot harder to get rid of than I thought. The surgeon was surprised to see me in his office on Monday. After a whirlpool treatment and new antibiotics I was told to come back on Thursday prepared for another surgery. It seemed the surgeon didn't even have that much hope that the new treatment plan would work.
Surgery # 2
Sure enough, the infection didn't get any better and on Thursday I went back in. This time an infectious disease doctor was called in. He took one look and informed me I would need a second, much more extensive surgery, and that I'd need to stay in the hospital a few days for IV antibiotics. All of this for one little finger infection seemed unreal, but just a few hours later I was waking up from a surgery that took twice as long and was much more painful. The next few days were a blur of pain and treatment, but finally I was released to continue my recovery from home.
One Month Later
I would like to say that it has been smooth sailing since that time, but honestly over a month after my last surgery, I still can't use my finger. The entire tip is numb, and the incision site still hurts. There was a chunk cut out to allow the infection to drain better; it is not done healing and won't be for another month.
I do not want anyone else to make the mistakes I made. If you suddenly experience redness, swelling, or tenderness around your nails, you are likely dealing with a paronychia. As small an area that these infections start in, they are very serious and need prompt attention by a doctor. If treated promptly, these types of infections can be taken care of completely without all the problems I had.