She apparently thought it was just a bruise at first.

By Leah Groth
Updated February 13, 2020
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Nearly everyone on the planet Earth has nibbled on their nails at one point or another—but for one teenage girl, the habit nearly resulted in the amputation of her finger.

In a recent TikTok video, 18-year-old Lauren Nichols, a college student in Texas, shared that she almost lost her fingertip after she contracted an infection from biting her nails. "To my fellow nail biters, stop what you are doing," she began the video, which has been viewed 9.2 million times since she posted it on January 17. "I almost had to get the tip of my finger amputated because I bite my nails."

Credit: Lauren Nichols/TikTok

She went on to explain through a series of photos that her ordeal began on January 8, when she woke up and noticed a green spot on the cuticle of her left middle finger. At first, she thought it was just a bruise, so she ignored it, but decided to get it checked out the next day, on January 9, before she went back to college. "It turns out it was paronychia, or a cuticle infection," she said in the TikTok video.

Her physician prescribed her antibiotics, and she thought she was in the clear. However, her condition worsened over the next few days. "On January 10, it was a lot more swollen and more red and the green part had expanded, so my antibiotics weren't working," she said, adding that, finally, on January 13, she "decided to pop it after watching YouTube videos."

Credit: Lauren Nichols/TikTok

After she popped the infection, Nichols said she went back to her doctor, who then told her she'd need surgery—specifically a therapeutic washout, to remove the infection, according to BuzzFeed News. "[My doctor] told me that he has to amputate the tips of people’s fingers because the infection gets too bad and that I’m lucky I came when I did,” she told the website.

Luckily, the procedure helped her recover without having to endure amputation. It also inspired her to quit her nail-biting habit and share her experience with others in hopes of educating them about the potential dangers.

Credit: Lauren Nichols/TikTok

What exactly is paronychia, and how does it happen?

Like Nichols explained, paronychia is a skin infection that occurs around the nails, according to the US National Library of Medicine's MedlinePlus. It's common and occurs after an injury to the area—like from biting or picking at nails, or trimming or pushing back the cuticle. The infection itself is caused by bacteria, candida (a type of yeast), or other types of fungi, that can enter an open wound.

The main symptom of paronychia is typically a painful, red, swollen area around the nail, mainly at the cuticle. With a bacterial infection, there may also be pus-filled blisters, according to MedlinePlus. The area around the fingernail, and the fingernail itself may also have an unusual color. If it's not caught quickly, the infection can spread to the rest of the body, possibly causing fever and chills, joint pain, muscle pain, and a general ill feeling.

Treatment varies on a case-by-case basis, often depending on the severity of inflammation and infection but can include drainage, topical, or oral medications—or even removal of the nail or amputation if the infection is severe enough. 

In addition to not biting your nails, MedlinePlus recommends not picking the skin around them or trimming your cuticles, to prevent infection. It's also important to protect nails from exposure to detergents or chemicals by using rubber gloves, and to bring your own manicure tools to nail salons (and not let a manicurist trim your cuticles)—or at least make sure the salon uses proper sanitizing techniques. 

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