Fingertip or Finger is an infection that typically affects the extremities of the fingers or toes. Caused by bacteria, fungi or viruses, symptoms manifest as redness, swelling, warmth, and pain . The pain is intense and throbbing and the affected area appears swollen and hot. Even the ingrown nail or prolonged contact with irritants (such as detergents) can trigger the infection. Treatment is mostly pharmacological. It can strike at any age, regardless of gender.
What is Fingertip (or Finger)
The medical term is patereccio but this ailment is better known as finger .
It is a rather painful inflammation that affects the soft parts of the fingers, especially the distal phalanges of the hands or feet. However, it is the hands that are most frequently affected. It often occurs around the nail, causing less pain.
Instead, less often it involves the fingertip. Even if it is not a serious disorder, it is always better not to neglect it, to avoid complications to the underlying structures (bone, tendons and joints). The cause is a bacterial, fungal or viral infection. But is the fingertip contagious? Yes, since the pathogens present in the lesion, whether they are bacteria, viruses or fungi, are transmitted by contact.
Types of Fingertip
Superficial or cutaneous fingertip
It can affect the surface of the epidermis and, in severe cases, cause a blister filled with serous or purulent fluid. It generally affects one or more phalanges of a finger which usually heal in a short time. It typically occurs around the finger (which is why it is called the finger ) or it can be nail-like, that is, located near the nail (in this case it is called paronychia ).
Subcutaneous, subungual or periungual fingertip
In these cases, the inflammation spreads to the tissues under the nail (subungual) or around it (periungual). This involves the involvement of the horny tissue that forms the nail.
It can expand reaching even the bone and osteoarticular structures. If left untreated, this type of patereccio can cause serious alterations in the functionality of the hand or foot.
It is caused by the herpes simplex virus and is manifested by severe pain and blisters (appearing no earlier than 2 or 3 days after the pain begins). The virus is the same virus that causes cold sores or genital herpes, which represent the main risk factor for this type of patereccio.
Most often those responsible for the infection are staphylococci and streptococci . Other times, however, the finger is caused by fungi such as candida albicans or by the herpes simplex virus . Pathogens penetrate through small lesions in the epidermis and, once inside, activate the body’s defensive response.
In fact, the symptoms are those characteristic of inflammatory processes, i.e. redness, swelling, heat and pain.
Although it is not a serious condition, it should not be neglected because the infection could spread to the deep structures of the finger and cause more serious problems.
Also read read our article on Ingrown toenail
Fingertip: how long the infection lasts
Times are variable and depend on the pathogen, but also on the timeliness of intervention and the correctness of treatment.
- Bacteria (staph): a few days with the appropriate treatments
- Herpes: generally 15-20 days
- Mushrooms (candida): 3 to 6 months.
- Habit of biting the nails and the cuticles around the nail (nail biting)
- incorrect manicure with the cut of the cuticles around the nails and the use of non-sterilized tools. In fact, cuticles are important because they allow the nail to adhere well to the skin. This also makes it possible to prevent injuries, a gateway for pathogens
- specific professions such as hairdressers, bartenders, dishwashers, etc., where you need to keep your hands in water often. In fact, water can alter the protective lipid film that acts as a barrier to the skin. If this protection is impaired, the hands are more prone to injury or scratches. The humidity then favors the proliferation of fungi
- manual, housework or gardening where the hands are more prone to minor trauma or injury
- use of chemicals such as detergents, various solvents or particularly aggressive soaps.
Typical symptoms of the Fingertip
Typical symptoms of a finger, particularly if due to a bacterial infection, are:
- throbbing pain
- redness around the base or sides of the nail
- finger warm to palpation
- pain in response to movement
- possible reduction in functionality
- pustules filled with purulent material (yellow / green discharge), even with bad odor.
Instead, the herpetic form manifests itself with pain and the appearance of serous vesicles (small bubbles).
Then, if it worsens, the inflammation can also cause abscesses (filled with pus) to form and alter the appearance of the nails (with irregular shapes or unusual color).
Finally, in immunosuppressed individuals , the immune system may not respond quickly to the infection, with the possible risk of it spreading through the blood. In these cases, symptoms such as:
- generalized weakness
- weight loss
It is therefore necessary in these cases to contact your doctor immediately.
How does it manifest itself?
- If it hits the nail : The skin looks tight and the area around the nail is inflamed, red, swollen and painful. Sometimes the nail can come unstuck or change color (yellow or greenish) depending on the bacteria causing the infection.
- If it hits the fingertip : the pain is very intense and throbbing and the fingertip appears swollen and red. Fever may be associated, but in rare cases. In this case it is good to be careful as the infection can spread to the whole hand.
Fingertip diagnosis and treatments
The finger is easily recognized by the doctor, therefore the diagnosis is clinical and does not involve particular difficulties. However, it is advisable to contact your doctor if the disorder does not resolve itself in a few days. The risk, in fact, is that the infection involves the whole finger or even the hand. In these cases it will be necessary to take drugs:
- antibiotics, if the cause of the infection is a bacterium
- antifungals, if a fungus is responsible
- antivirals, if it is a virus.
In specific cases where the diagnosis is more complex, more in-depth investigations can be carried out:
- swab or smear on a slide collected directly from the affected area to recognize the strains of bacteria or fungi responsible for the infection. An antibiogram may also be useful in identifying the most suitable therapy.
- In the case of herpes, the Tzanck smear can be used, which allows to verify the specific alterations that the epithelial cells undergo if affected by this virus.
- Blood samples to identify antibodies directed against the microorganism responsible for the infection or copies of its DNA (for viruses).
- Biopsy, removing a small part of the lesion to be analyzed in the laboratory.
Medicines to cure the fingertip
It is necessary that the pharmacological treatment for the patereccio is targeted, that is, linked to the cause of the infection.
The antibiotic must be effective on the type of bacterium that caused the infection. It may also be useful to have the pus analyzed in the laboratory to find the pathogen and prescribe the specific drug.
Generally, antibiotic creams are used to be applied to the affected area such as aureomycin and gentamicin (sometimes associated with cortisone with anti-inflammatory action such as Gentalyn Beta).
It is also useful to combine washing with an antibacterial soap.
If the infection is fungal, specific antifungal drugs are used such as ointments based on ethanol and thymol, substances with a fungicidal action, or azole-based drugs such as Fluconazole .
In case of herpetic patereccio, that is caused by the herpes simplex virus, antiviral creams such as Zovirax or Aciclovir can be applied .
Natural remedies to cure Fingertip
Hot water and salt. Among the “grandmother’s” remedies, the most common is to dip your finger in a solution of hot water and salt and soak it for a few minutes. To be repeated 2-3 times a day.
Milk and garlic . The milk is boiled with three cloves of garlic, it is made to cool and then the affected part is immersed for about half an hour.
Breadcrumbs . The crumb is softened in hot milk and wrapped around the affected part.
Lemon . Pierce the surface of the lemon, insert your finger and leave it like this for half an hour a day.
Tea tree oil . It is an essential oil with natural antibiotic properties. It should be applied, mixed with almond oil, on the patereccio, covering the infected part with a gauze. To be repeated 2-3 times a day.
Marigold or mallow . Wraps with an infusion of calendula or mallow to be done several times a day.
Arnica . Arnica-based ointment is very useful to reduce swelling and pain.
Rice flour and flax seeds . The flour and flax seeds are mixed with a little water and a pack is made with this amalgam for about 15-20 minutes.
When surgery is needed
If drugs do not heal, there is nothing left to do but to resort to a minor surgery. It is performed in an outpatient clinic, under local anesthesia and lasts no more than fifteen minutes. However, the type of operation is different depending on the affected area.
- If it affects the nail. A small incision is made in the skin for pus to escape. However, if the infection has also attacked the nail, the surgeon will also remove the infected skin and the fraction of the nail under which the pus is. After the surgery, antibiotic cream will be used 2-3 times a day for about 15 days to prevent other infections.
- If it affects the fingertip . Also in this case, an incision is made on the skin to release the pus. Then the wound will be disinfected and covered with sterile gauze to wait for it to heal naturally. In fact, the incision should not be stitched up to avoid the formation of new pus.
If neglected, the possible complications of the patereccio can be:
- abscess (accumulation of pus in the tissues affected by the infection)
- joint infection
- bone infections
- deformation of the fingers
- partial or total loss of the nail.
How to prevent Fingertip
The patereccio is certainly not a serious pathology, but it is quite annoying. For this reason it is necessary to take preventive measures such as:
- do not bite your nails or tear the cuticles to avoid those microtraumas that favor the penetration of bacteria into the skin
- avoid too aggressive manicures or cut nails too short
- dry your hands and feet well
- wear gloves when handling irritated or egressive substances
- avoid fingers in the mouth.
Furthermore, it is always good not to underestimate the infection and monitor the symptoms to avoid more severe consequences.