Infections anywhere in the body are a common health risk, but fingertip infections are extremely common. We use our hands for everything, and we might not always take the best care of them. Fingertip infections can range anywhere from mere annoyance to serious health concern. If ignored or untreated, some infections can result in permanent damage or even complete loss of the finger.
Any opening in the skin on or around the fingertip can allow bacteria, a virus, or a fungus to enter and cause an infection. Biting your nails, picking cuticles, working with rough or sharp objects, and playing with animals are just a few of the countless ways you can cut the skin on your fingers and incur an infection.
A felon is a bacterial infection located in the finger pad. Staphylococcal or streptococcal bacteria are responsible for these infections, and they usually enter through a puncture wound. The inside of the fingertip has several compartments, allowing this infection to stay localized and form a pocket of bacteria and pus. The fingertip will be swollen and painful.
Herpetic whitlow is a herpes simplex virus infection in the fingertips. These are common among professionals who come into contact with saliva or other body fluids (nurses, doctors, dentists, etc.), or among people who already have herpes. The fingertip will be red and tender, and may burn or itch.
The most common form of fingertip infection, cellulitis is a staphylococcal or streptococcal infection caused by an open wound. This type of infection can spread to surrounding tissue and even into the blood. The infected area will be red, warm, swollen and tender.
Caused by a deep, penetrating trauma, infectious flexor tenosynovitis is an infection in the tendon sheaths in the fingertip. These infections can spread easily along the sheath and its tendon. Patients with these infections will experience swelling of the entire finger, tenderness of the underside of the finger, and pain bending the finger.
Paronychia is caused by a staphylococcal or streptococcal bacteria, or even a fungus on rare occasions. These infections are commonly caused by biting hangnails, as these types of organisms are commonly found in the mouth. In these infections, the area next to the fingernail will be red and swollen, possibly with pus.