Medical questions & health advice by licensed doctors
"Can chewing/biting fingernails cause an infection?"
Is it true that chewing and biting on your nails can lead to an infection? I've bitten my nails ever since I was a kid and I've never had a problem, but now one of my friends is really getting onto me about it, and saying that even a small infection can quickly become deadly. Is there any truth to that?
Problems with the fingernails are a common medical complaint, which are fortunately rarely serious. Doctors who will be well qualified to discuss this issue in greater detail include your primary care doctor and your dermatologist. Chewing and biting of the fingernails is a common habit, especially in times of stress, for many people. In addition to the unsightliness of the chewed fingernails, there can occasionally be some medical consequences of the habit. For example, it is quite common for there to be pain or bleeding if the nail is chewed to closely to the nail bed. Occasionally there can be an infection of this tissue. It is best to avoid this practice and, if it happens, to apply some antibiotic ointment and cover the exposed tissue with a bandaid. Similarly, many people who bite their nails also pick at the skin and cuticle around the nail. This can lead to cuts and infection of the tissue at the edge of the nail, called a paronychia. Fortunately, these are rarely serious and can be treated with topical antibiotic cream and hygiene. However, occasionally, they can be quite painful and can require evaluation by your doctor. As always, the diagnosis and the treatment of your particular condition would require a physical examination by your personal physician. If you have concerns, it is best to schedule an office visit with your primary care doctor.
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