Hand Infections

What are Hand Infections?

Infections of the hand can be extremely serious and have severe and lasting negative effects, such as loss of strength and stiffness, as well as loss of tissue, skin, nerves or even bone. It is important, therefore, that hand infections be treated quickly and aggressively so that they are not allowed to develop into much more serious conditions.

What are causes of Hand Infections?

One of the most common infections of the hand is the Paronychia, which occurs when bacteria or fungi wedge themselves in the nail bed, between the cuticle and the nail, and wreak havoc with the soft tissue, often causing the development of large subcutaneous pustules. These most commonly occur among people whose hands are routinely wet. Another type of hand infection is the Felon, which is characterized by throbbing pain, and occurs in the pulp tissue of the fingertip. If left untreated, a Felon may lead to loss of both soft tissue and bone at the tip of the finger. Less common is the Herpetic Whitlow, which is a viral infection that is caused by the Herpes virus. It is relatively easy to treat, and most often goes away without any further complications. Herpetic Whitlows are most often seen among those with regular contact with people carrying Herpes, such as healthcare workers or dental assistants, and is believed to be transmitted primarily through saliva. Septic arthritis is an infection associated with injuries near joints, wherein the bacteria introduced through the infection actually erode and destroy the cartilage of the joint, rendering it useless. If left untreated, it can develop into osteomyelitis, which is an infection of the bone, and a very serious condition that must be treated with urgency. There are certain points in the hands anatomy that are open spaces, sitting around the various layers, but not actually containing any muscle, tendon or bone. These spaces can also become infected, usually by a deep puncture wound, and must be drained surgically, or else the infection can spread to the rest of the hand, and from there to the wrist and up the forearm. Tendon sheath infections (septic flexor tenosynovitis) are caused when the finger is punctured and the flexor tendon is exposed to air, allowing bacteria to enter into the tendon sheath and causing infection. It is often first indicated by stiffness, but can quickly progress to inflammation and pain. Without surgical draining and antibiotics, it is possible that with a tendon sheath infection the finger may be lost.

What are symptoms of Hand Infections?

Infections are not always painful, which can be misleading. Thy often first present as slight inflammation, with perhaps some tenderness or stiffness depending on the area infected. They can, however, progress quickly and unless they are caught early, can wreak great damage on the hand. Usually however, there is readness and warmth, localized or streaking up the wrist and forearm. There may be a localized pus collection or abscess with marked localized tenderness.

How to diagnose Hand Infections

Hand infections are diagnosed just as any other injury, with a detailed medical history of the injury and a clinical examination of the affected body part by the doctor. Often, the clinical exam is enough to clue the doctor in on what is happening to your hand, but if the infection is not presenting itself that easily, then the doctor can look into your hand with an ultrasound machine in order to get a better view of the area. Sometimes ultrasound is not precise enough, and doesn’t produce a good enough picture, and in that case CT and MRI scans come in very handy, as they provide a remarkably detailed view inside the hand and can help the doctor pinpoint exactly where the infection is. X-rays may also prove helpful, especially if the infection has progressed to osteomyelitis, or infection of the bone. In more marked cases, laboratory blood analysis will reveal an increased white blood cell count and elevated ESR. Additionally, you may also run a fever as the infection spreads.

Non-surgical treatment of Hand Infections

The general treatment for infections of the hand is the administration of antibiotics, either orally or intravenously. If the infection is on the surface, and characterized by ceullulitis, as opposed to an abscess, then surgery should not be necessary. Also, if the infection turns out to be fungal rather than bacterial, antifungal medications may be administered in the same way.

Surgical treatment of Hand Infections

Should the infection progress past the stage at which antibiotics alone can be of help, surgery may be your only option. It is also necessary to surgically drain abscesses that occur in deep closed spaces of the hand or in areas such as the tendon sheath where they develop within a bounded area and cause stress to the edges and walls of the chamber.

How can Dr. Knight help you with Hand infections?

Infections are among the more serious problems that can affect your hand, and it is important to have them seen and treated as soon as possible. Generally, infections will most likely be treated in an Emergency Room rather than by a specialist, but it is still important to Dr. Knight that everyone be educated about any problems they may have with their hand, should they need to seek medical attention.

HandAndWristInstitute.com does not offer medical advice. The information presented here is offered for informational purposes only. Read Disclaimer