While I was growing up, I saw a few people suffer from a whitlow on one finger. Some told me it hurt too much when I asked how they were feeling.
Their fingertips would ache excruciatingly and they would see them enlarge to the size of a tennis ball. My sympathies were limited to them, but anytime I see someone who has a Whitlow, I can’t help but wonder: What caused it?
A whitlow is a localized infection that usually manifests as discomfort, swelling, and inflammation at the fingertip. In essence, anyone may get a whitlow, and depending on your pain threshold, the discomfort might be horrific. There are two main types: bacterial whitlow, which typically results from small skin injuries and is characterized by swelling, pus development, and throbbing pain; and herpetic whitlow, which is caused by the herpes simplex virus and manifests as redness and fluid-filled blisters. In this article, we will look at various types of whitlow and their causes.
Herpetic whitlow is mostly caused by herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2, also known as HSV 1 and HSV 2. These are the viruses that cause cold sores and genital herpes, which could explain why your finger is acting up.
Herpetic whitlow is transmitted when the finger comes in direct contact with the virus or through self-inoculation. Let us look at it this way: If your finger comes in direct contact with someone who has a herpetic infection, such as a cold sore or genital herpes, the virus can spread to your finger. Furthermore, if you shake hands with someone who has herpetic whitlow and there is direct contact between their infected hand and your flesh, particularly if you have any cuts, scratches, or broken skin on your hand, you risk transferring the herpes virus.
Symptoms of Herpetic Whitlow
- Painful blisters near the fingernail
- Swelling, redness, tenderness
- Potential fever and enlarged lymph nodes
- Tingling or burning sensation
Bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus cause bacterial whitlow. This opportunistic bacteria enters through broken skin, such as cuts, hangnails, or bites. Moist environments and nail biting provide the ideal conditions for these bacteria to invade your finger.
Symptoms of Bacterial Whitlow
- Redness, swelling, and throbbing pain around the fingernail
- Pus formation
- Tenderness and difficulty moving the finger
- Potential fever and chills
Are There Any Complications of Whitlow?
Absolutely! Whitlow causatives like herpes simplex virus and staphylococcus aureus don’t just get into your finger and start throbbing. That’s not even the farthest they can go. Untreated whitlow can cause various consequences, including infection spread, irreversible scarring, nerve damage, and, in rare cases, sepsis.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Whitlow
The process of diagnosing a whitlow entails a physical examination by the physician, who will examine your finger in order to look for any clues that could help in the diagnosis. In order to determine the exact cause of the whitlow, a swab or culture test may also be performed.
Antiviral medications, such as acyclovir or valacyclovir pills, are likely to be prescribed if you are diagnosed with herpetic whitlow; if you are diagnosed with bacterial whitlow, however, your doctor may recommend draining the accumulated pus and prescribing antibiotics. These medications work to combat the bacteria infection and help you heal more quickly.
How Do You Prevent Whitlow?
Whitlow is not an enjoyable condition.
But by keeping a few things in mind, you can prevent yourself from having a whitlow.
- Wash your hands regularly
- Avoid contact with infected people
- Practice good hygiene after handling raw fish or meat
- Always keep your wounds cleaned and properly covered
- Ensure to manage underlying health conditions such as diabetes