Finger Infection Symptoms
Each of the main finger infections has specific signs and symptoms that make identification unique and can sometimes cause confusion if not properly evaluated.
- Paronychia: The area next to the fingernail will appear red and swollen. A visible collection of pus may be seen under the skin and nail. This fluid may be actually leaking out of the wound. The area will be tender and painful to the touch. The drainage from the area is usually a cloudy white-yellow color.
- Felon: The fingertip is swollen and painful. The swelling usually develops over several days and is located in the pad area of the fingertip. The area will have a throbbing pain and be painful to the touch. The area is usually red, and a visible collection of pus may be seen under the skin. The swollen area may have a portion that feels soft as if it contains fluid. As the swelling continues, the area may become tense or hard to the touch.
- Herpetic whitlow: The fingertip area will be red and tender. A burning or itching sensation may be present in the area. There may be mild swelling, but not as extensive as in the felon. There may be a single or many open wounds in the area affected. These open wounds often occur in clusters after the formation of a small blisterlike lesion. The fluid in these lesions is usually clear in appearance but may be slightly cloudy. You may also have a low-grade fever and have swollen and tender lymph nodes in the area.
- Cellulitis: The area will be red and warm to the touch. The area may be slightly swollen and tender. This is usually a superficial infection, so the deep structures should not be involved. The motion of the fingers and hand should not be difficult or painful. If painful or difficult, this may indicate a deep space infection of some type.
- Infectious flexor tenosynovitis: Four major signs often are found with this condition. First is tenderness over the flexor or palm side of the finger. This pain is found over the tendons in the finger. Second is uniform swelling of the finger. Third is pain on extending or straightening of the finger. Fourth, the finger will be held in a slightly flexed or partially bent position. These signs are called Kanavel cardinal signs. All 4 signs may not be present at first or all at once.
- Deep space infections: The deep space infection that arises in the web space of the fingers is also called a collar button abscess. The space between the fingers will be painful and swollen. The area may also be red and warm to the touch. As the abscess becomes larger, the fingers will be slightly spread apart by the increasing pressure. The central area may have a soft spot that represents a collection of pus under the skin.
When to Seek Medical Care
The key to preventing disability and possible loss of the finger is early and appropriate treatment. If any signs and symptoms are present, you should contact your doctor at once.
If you have signs or symptoms of a felon, cellulitis, infectious flexor tenosynovitis, or deep space infection, you should seek emergency care at once.