Why does my nail hurt?

Reviewed by Theresa H. Care Delivery Manager & Family Nurse Practitioner

Time saver 3 min read

You keep your fingernails trimmed and have been known to treat yourself to the occasional manicure or pedicure. So when the area around your fingernail started swelling and throbbing with pain, you were a little confused. And as the pain grew worse – making even simple tasks like typing and texting painful – you became downright concerned. What’s going on? Is your nail infected? Do you need an antibiotic? If this scenario sounds familiar, there’s a good chance you have paronychia or an infected nail. Let’s dig in and learn more about this common nail condition.

Soothe nail infection symptoms

Ouch! Seriously, how can your fingernail hurt so much? When bacteria invades the skin around your fingernail or toenail, the entire area becomes inflamed and very sore. Sometimes a nail infection also creates a pocket of pus that may drain. The good news is that there are things you can do at home to get relief.

At-home care for nail infections

  • For pain – Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to ease pain and discomfort.
  • For swelling – Soak infected nail in warm water for 15 minutes, 4 times per day – adding Epsom salts or Burrow’s solution to aid in healing.

Why nail infections happen

Fingernails and toenails are the ultimate protectors – keeping vulnerable skin safe and making everyday tasks possible. But all it takes is a tiny break, crack or cut in the skin around one of your nails — say at the cuticle or nail fold — to create an environment that’s ripe for infection. A breach in the skin around your nail allows harmful bacteria (usually staph) to get in and cause problems. And sometimes these breaches happen in sneaky ways – like an ingrown nail or through exposure to certain cleaning products.

If you’re prone to nail infections, here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind.

Nail infection dos and don’ts


  • Don’t bite your nails – Bacteria can be transferred directly from your mouth into tiny cuts and tears.
  • Don’t pick at or cut your cuticles – The skin around your nail bed is there for a reason. Let it be, so it can do its job.
  • Don’t wear artificial nails – Fake nails press into and can damage the nail bed – making this area more prone to injury and infection.


  • Do wear waterproof gloves – Prolonged exposure to water and cleaning products can dry out the skin around your nails, making them more prone to crack and providing a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Do moisturize hands – Dry weather and frequent hand washing can be a recipe for cracked skin and nail infections. Keep the skin around your nails soft and supple.

Nail inflection after a trip to the salon?

It happens more than you think, usually because the nail technician cuts into your cuticles or uses equipment that wasn’t properly sterilized. It’s ok to speak up! Tell your technician not to cut your cuticles and ask about how the salon disinfects their equipment. Have concerns? It’s totally acceptable to bring your own sterilized manicure equipment.

Online treatment for nail infections

Nail infections hurt. And when you’re experiencing that throbbing (i.e. why does my fingernail have a heartbeat?!) pain you want relief as soon as possible. But let’s be honest – you don’t have time to go into the doctor for a nail infection. And, you don’t have to. Get online care and treatment for fingernail and toenail infections, plus prescriptions sent directly to your pharmacy. Yep, we nailed it!

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