There are different types of finger infections which can range from mild to severe. Although many start out small and are easy to treat, complications can occur if a person does not receive treatment.

Hands are likely to come into contact with infectious bacteria and other germs, which can lead to infection. Prevention of finger infection is important, as well as knowing when to see a doctor.

This article covers the different types of finger infections, their causes and risk factors, and treatment options.

There are many different types of infections, each with their own causes and symptoms. Some types of finger infections include:

  • Felon: A felon is an infection at the tip of the finger. The infection takes over the pad of the fingertip and the soft tissue around it.
  • Paronychia: Paronychia is an infection of a hangnail on the finger. The tissues on the edges of the finger near the nail root provide the perfect place for bacteria to enter. It is the most common infection of the hand.
  • Herpetic whitlow: Herpetic whitlow is an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. The virus usually infects the fingertip.
  • Deep space infection: Deep space infections can develop due to a puncture wound. The infection involves one or more structures in the hand and fingers below the skin. These may be the blood vessels, tendons, or muscles.
  • Infectious flexor tenosynovitis: Also called, tendon sheath infection, infectious flexor tenosynovitis is a type of deep space infection that involves the structures in the hand rather than just the skin. This particular type affects the tendons and tendon sheaths responsible for flexing and closing the muscles and bones in the hand.
  • Cellulitis: Cellulitis is an infection on the surface of the skin. It can affect any part of the body, including the hands and fingers.

The causes of finger infections can vary depending on the type of infection.

Often, infections develop due to bacteria entering the body due to an injury, such as a cut on the finger. Other possible entry points for bacteria may be animal or insect bites, paper cuts, or puncture wounds.

Herpetic whitlow is caused by a virus instead of bacteria.


A felon infection usually results from a wound penetrating the skin, such as:

  • splinters
  • abrasions
  • bites
  • puncture wounds

These wounds allow bacteria to get into the deeper layers of the skin. Staphylococcus aureas is the most common source of the infection.


Paronychia develops when bacteria, most commonly Staphylococcus aureus, enters the cuticle. This can happen when the cuticle or a hangnail becomes irritated, resulting in an open wound.

Bacteria can enter the cuticle via:

  • trauma to the cuticle
  • nail biting
  • aggressive manicures
  • artificial nails

Herpetic whitlow

Herpes simplex virus I or II is the virus responsible for herpetic whitlow. It is the same virus that causes outbreaks of oral or genital herpes.

People who work with bodily fluids, such as doctors, dentists, and other medical workers, may be more at risk of contracting the infection. It is also possible for someone with herpes to infect their own finger.

Deep space infection

Deep space infections, including infectious flexor tenosynovitis, are caused by a deep puncture wound or very deep cut that allows bacteria to reach the deepest tissues in the hand and finger.

Infectious flexor tenosynovitis

Bacteria can enter the finger through a small cut or puncture wound. Although the wound can be anywhere on the hand, infectious flexor tenosynovitis is particularly likely to develop if the wound is near a joint in the palm side of the hand.


A person can develop cellulitis when bacteria, most commonly Streptococcus, enters the skin through an opening in the skin, such as an injury.

The bacteria enter the lower layers of the skin through an open wound. The infection may spread to other parts of the hands and fingers via the bloodstream.

When a cut on the finger becomes infected, symptoms include:

  • erythema, or skin discoloration, which can be red, pink, purple, or a subtle darkening of the existing skin color
  • swelling
  • increasing pain in the area
  • pus
  • feeling unwell


Typical symptoms of a felon include a swollen and painful fingertip. It may be possible to see a pool of pus forming under the skin.

A person may first notice erythema at the fingertip. As the symptoms progress, the fingertip can become painful and swollen. The pain can start off as mild, but quickly progress to severe.


Symptoms of paronychia include skin discoloration and swelling next to the fingernail, which will be painful to touch.

Pus may develop under the nail or skin, which may leak out of the wound. The drainage is usually a white-yellow color.

Herpetic whitlow

Whitlows present as blood-tinged blisters that are small, swollen, and painful. The following symptoms may also be present:

  • swelling
  • pain
  • skin discoloration
  • feeling unwell
  • high temperature

A whitlow may cause one or more open wounds in the area that often occur in clusters.

Deep space infection

Common symptoms and signs of deep space infections include pain when moving certain parts of the hand.

The area may become discolored, very sensitive to touch, and spread along the tendon sheath. The center of the infection may have a soft spot, where a collection of pus is forming.

Infectious flexor tenosynovitis

Infectious flexor tenosynovitis can present with the following symptoms:

  • pain and tenderness on the palm side of the finger
  • swelling
  • pain when straightening the finger


Symptoms of cellulitis include erythema and skin that is sensitive and warm to the touch. The area may also swell.

If a person notices any signs of an infection in their finger, they should seek medical help. Without treatment, an infection can progress.

A doctor will be able to discuss the best treatment options.

Doctors will diagnose finger infections by thoroughly identifying symptoms and their potential causes. They will ask a series of questions to determine when the infection began.

The doctor may also ask more specific questions, such as if a person has a history of biting their nails or if they have the herpes virus. These questions help narrow the possibilities down for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

A doctor can treat some finger infections with antibiotics, wound care, and nonsurgical treatment. Other types of infection require surgery to remove the infected tissue.

To treat herpetic whitlows, a doctor may prescribe antiviral tablets.

Home remedies

A person should seek medical attention to treat an infected finger. However, there are some steps a person can take at home.

These include ensuring the wound is clean and covered with a sterile dressing and taking painkillers to ease the pain.

Preventing finger infections begins with basic hygiene and following safety practices when handling dangerous materials or doing dangerous work.

If a person develops a wound on their hand or finger, they can take steps to care for it. These include:

  • gently washing the area with a mild soap and water
  • apply petroleum jelly to prevent the wound from drying out
  • cover the wound with a sterile adhesive bandage
  • change the bandage daily to keep the wound clean during the healing process

A person’s outlook is positive if a person receives prompt treatment for an infected finger. If treatment is delayed or infections are severe, there is the possibility of lasting damage.

It is essential to talk with a doctor at the first sign of infection to discuss treatment.

Finger infections can range from mild to severe. They often cause symptoms such as skin discoloration, swelling, and pain.

If a person notices any symptoms of a finger infection, they should contact a doctor. This is because infections can progress quickly and lead to permanent damage.