A Guide to Different Types of Finger Infection

A finger infection can be one of the most persistently annoying infections because we’re always using our hands for everyday activities. Washing your hands, writing a note, or even typing on the computer can cause a painful reminder of the growing infection on your finger. Any injury on your finger has the potential to cause an infection if bacteria or fungus gets under the skin, whether it is a paper cut, a scrape, or a puncture wound. We’re going to go over some of the more common causes of finger infection and how these conditions can be treated.

Hangnail, Resulting in Paronychia

Most of us have experienced the dreaded hangnail. Whether you pay careful attention to your nails or just clip/nibble them as-needed, a hangnail can develop with little warning. Not sure what a hangnail is? Simply put, when the skin to the fingernail that becomes dry a small portion can split away from it and protrude between the nail and the smooth skin of the finger. This is a very common occurrence in people who bite their nails, wash their hands often, or suffer from dry skin. A hangnail in itself isn’t usually an issue, but if it snags on something, like clothing, or if it is picked at or torn away, it creates an open break in the skin leaving it vulnerable to bacteria and dirt.

When bacteria enter the broken surface of skin, it can quickly cause an infection that you will typically notice within 24 hours of removing the hangnail. Fungus can also enter the area and cause an infection, although it usually occurs more slowly. This type of infection that occurs around the nail is called paronychia. The first signs include pain, swelling, and redness of the tissues next to the fingernail where the hangnail was. The skin will begin to feel much warmer than the surrounding area and may begin to show further discoloration to a dark red or purplish tone as the infection worsens. After a day or two the area can form a pus pocket that may ooze from the wound site or may be squeezed to help relieve excess swelling.

Bacterial paronychia can often be treated by soaking the finger in a small bowl of warm salt water for a few minutes, two or three times each day. Antiseptic or antibacterial ointment can also be used to help bring down the infection. If the area continues to swell or if the nail starts to look deformed or heavily discolored, then you may need to see a doctor to have the site drained and treated with a prescription antibiotic. Fungal infections should be treated using an antifungal medication before the fungus spread to the nearby nail.

Whitlow

A whitlow is an injury that is commonly used interchangeably with paronychia, but the two are technically different conditions. A whitlow shows most of the basic symptoms as a paronychia; however this condition is caused by the herpes virus. This kind of infection is usually transmitted from person to person, usually by sharing fluids with an infected person. One type of herpes infection that can cause a whitlow is the herpes simplex 1, which is the culprit behind cold sores. If you have an active cold sore and touch the area with your finger which happens to have an open sore on it, the herpes virus can actually be transferred to the finger area. The same can happen if you touch someone else’s cold sore. The second type of herpes virus (2) is the type that is most often sexually transmitted, resulting in genital lesions.

The symptoms of a whitlow include a burning or itching sensation in the finger, small blister-like bumps on the skin, swelling, redness, and warmth. You may also experience a fever, red lines moving up your arms, and swollen lymph nodes. Much like a cold sore, the whitlow should disappear unaided in about two or three weeks. If the condition worsens or fails to go away after this time, or if you experience confusion or a fever of 102F or higher, then you should see a doctor right away.

Cellulitis

One of the most common types of finger infection is the everyday bacterial infection. Unlike a paronychia, this type of infection isn’t limited to the area around the fingernail. Any type of wound, regardless of where it is on your finger, has the potential to become infected, especially if it is not cleansed and protected properly. What many people don’t realize is that cellulitis can occur even if there is not an open wound on the skin, although this would probably be a blood or blood vessel issue.

Some of the visual symptoms of cellulitis are swelling and redness of the skin. The tissues will be painful, feel warmer than that of the surrounding area, and there may be red streaks shooting out from the affected skin. It is not uncommon for sufferer to feel generally ill, to run a fever, and have swollen lymph nodes. A person who becomes really sick due to cellulitis may need to have a white blood cell count done to determine whether the immune system is attempting to fight off the infection on its own. Blood tests may also be done to help determine if bacteria has found its way into the blood stream, which can be a serious complication.

The typical treatment for cellulitis is an antibiotic medication. It can also help to keep the arm elevated to prevent blood from pooling around the area. In a serious or progressed case, it may be necessary for the doctor to administer antibiotics through an IV drip.


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