A finger infection will usually start out small and grow with time. There are different types of infections, and serious complications can occur if they are left untreated.
Hands are more 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.
There are many different types of infections, each with their own causes and symptoms.
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.
Cellulitis is an infection on the surface of the skin. It usually does not involve the deeper levels of tissue on the hand or finger.
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 is an infection caused by a virus. The virus usually infects the fingertip and may be confused for a felon because of this.
It can also have similar symptoms to paronychia, but will not respond to antibiotics.
Deep space infection
Deep space infections are infections that involve one or more structures in the hand and fingers that are below the skin. These may be the blood vessels, tendons, or muscles.
Infectious flexor tenosynovitis
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.
Infections around the body are most commonly caused by bacteria that infect the finger 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 the classic exception to this rule, as it is caused by a virus instead of bacteria. Each type of infection has its own specific causes as well.
A felon infection is usually the result of a puncture wound, such as poking the tip of the finger with a pin.
Staphylococcal and streptococcal organisms are often the source of the infection. The puncture wound allows these bacteria to get into the deeper layers of the skin and multiply, creating the typical symptoms.
The same bacteria that cause felon infections are also responsible for cellulitis. 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.
This infection is usually caused by the same bacteria that causes felon infections, though, on rare occasions, a fungus can also cause it. It starts when a hangnail or cuticle becomes irritated and leads to an open would that contains bacteria.
The infection may spread to the surrounding area. Picking, biting, or cutting a hangnail may put a person more at risk for developing paronychia.
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 usually caused by a deep puncture wound or very deep cut that allows bacteria to reach the deepest tissues in the hand and finger. The structures of the hand are not ready to deal with surface bacteria and provide plenty of potential areas for the bacteria to infect.
Some people, such as people with compromised immune systems or those with diabetes, may be at an increased risk for infections. Individuals who work in hazardous professions may also be more likely to injure themselves, potentially leading to infection.
Most infections will look pink or red and feel tender to the touch.
When a cut on the finger becomes infected, symptoms include:
- increasing pain in the area
- feeling unwell
Each finger infection comes with its own symptoms as well:
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.
Symptoms of cellulitis include red skin that is sensitive and warm to the touch. The area may also swell.
The motion of the hands should not be affected. If it is, a deep space infection may be present.
Symptoms of paronychia include redness 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.
Whitlows will look like felons, and may additionally cause a burning or itching sensation in the immediate area. The swelling will likely be milder than in a felon.
It is caused by the herpes simplex virus.
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 red, 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 is associated with four major signs, which may not all be present at once:
- the person will first feel pain and tenderness over the tendons in the finger
- the finger will begin to swell
- the person may then feel pain when extending or straightening their finger out
- once the infection has progressed, the finger will be at rest in a slightly flexed or partially bent position
When to see a doctor
It is important to report signs and symptoms of infection to a doctor as soon as possible to avoid serious complications. The doctor will then be able to discuss the best treatment options.
Doctors will diagnose finger infections by thoroughly identifying symptoms and their cause. They will usually ask a series of questions to determine when the infection began and if there is something stuck in the wound.
They may ask 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.
Infections caused by bacteria will usually be treated with antibiotics and medical care.
Doctors may simply cut and drain a wound. Sometimes they may need to perform surgery to be sure all of the infection is cleared out.
Treatment varies from person to person, and people should always discuss options with a doctor.
Finger infections can become serious and may lead to a loss of a finger or part of the hand. So, home care for most finger infections is limited.
However, a minor infection of the hangnail can be managed at home with proper wound care that includes allowing the wound to drain. The infection may respond to warm water soaks and regular washing as well. If symptoms do not resolve, contact a doctor for treatment.
All other types of finger infection require immediate medical care.
Preventing finger infections begins with basic hygiene and following safety practices when handling dangerous materials or doing dangerous work.
Exposure to bodily fluids should be limited, and regular hand washing can help eliminate germs.
The outlook for most infections that are treated properly and caught early enough is good. If treatment is delayed or infections are severe, there is the possibility for lasting damage.
It is essential to talk with a doctor at the first sign of infection to discuss treatment.