Abrasions and small cuts on the hand can easily occur when using tools or when doing gardening and housework and are often ignored. However, if symptoms persist, hand infections must also be considered.
What are hand infections?
Hand infections often develop after an injury from germs that can more easily penetrate the skin through the wound. They can penetrate deep into the tissue on the inside of the hand, because the skin there is particularly firmly connected to the underlying tissue layers.
The same applies to the tissue on the flex side of the fingers. Depending on the type of infection, hand infections are divided into panaritium , paronychia and phlegmon. Panaritium is a general term for an infection on the fingers, which can occur in the joint as well as under a nail and under the skin.
Paronychia, on the other hand, is an infection of the lower part of the nail bed, the so-called nail wall. A phlegmon is a hand infection of the hollow hand or the tendon sheaths. The fingers are not affected here.
The causes of hand infections of all three forms are often staph or fungi, which can penetrate the skin after a self-inflicted injury. Handling tools, nail care or animal bites can also lead to hand infections.
If the germs have penetrated the wound, inflammation occurs. Hand infections can occur more easily with certain pre-existing conditions. These include patients with an immune deficiency, but also cancer patients and diabetics. Circulatory disorders also favor the development of hand infections.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
Hand infections such as paronychia or phlegmon are initially manifested by inflammation in the affected area of the hand or finger. Sometimes there are pustules or swellings that hurt when pressure is applied. As the disease progresses, movement pain may also occur, which can spread to the entire hand.
Depending on the type and severity of the infection, the nerves in the hand can also be affected. Symptoms of paralysis or sensory disturbances can then set in. In addition, typical symptoms such as fever and malaise appear. The hand feels hot and is very sensitive to pressure. Those affected usually feel a throbbing pain.
Externally, a hand infection can primarily be recognized by the visible reddening. This usually occurs shortly after infection with the pathogen and increases in size in the first few days. Eventually, a blister or swelling forms. The hand infection usually goes away on its own if the person concerned observes strict personal hygiene and otherwise takes it easy. In severe cases, the infection can progress and spread to other areas of the body. This can be recognized by an increasing feeling of illness and severe pain in the hand.
Diagnosis & History
The doctor can easily recognize hand infections based on the symptoms described, such as pain, swelling and the existing restriction of movement. The hand is also very sensitive to pressure and warmer than a healthy hand. All these symptoms already indicate an inflammatory reaction.
If the hand infection progresses, a general feeling of illness with fever and chills can also occur in the patient. The lymph nodes in the armpits are also swollen and give the doctor another indication of inflammation. This can be verified with a blood test. To find out what kind of germ it is, a swab is taken from the wound.
If lower-lying soft tissues or bones and joints are already affected by hand infections, an X-ray, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computed tomography) must also be used to determine how far the infection has progressed.
In most cases, hand infections do not lead to any particular complications and do not require treatment by a doctor. They often heal on their own if the hands are cared for and there is a high standard of hygiene. Without treatment, hand infections primarily lead to severe pain. This pain can occur under stress or in the form of pain at rest and lead to sleeping problems at night.
Likewise, the hands are red and possibly covered with spots and swollen. The movement of the fingers and hands is severely restricted by the hand infections and the pain, which can lead to limitations and complications in everyday life. Under certain circumstances, the person affected can no longer carry out their professional activities due to the hand infections. As a result of the infection itself, patients often suffer from fever and pain in the extremities.
Headaches and chills also occur. Hand infections are treated with antibiotics and painkillers. There are no further complications if the person concerned takes care of their hands and rests. If the affected person does not pay attention to sufficient hygiene, it can also lead to blood poisoning. In many cases this leads to death.
When should you go to the doctor?
Since hand infections can also spread to other areas and regions of the body and lead to symptoms and complications there, hand infections should always be treated by a doctor. The doctor should be consulted if the typical symptoms of hand infections occur after a cut or other injury to the hand. These include burning and stabbing pain accompanied by redness. Swelling can also occur on the hand and lead to restricted movement.
As a rule, severe hand pain also indicates a hand infection. Furthermore, an infection can lead to fever or paralysis of the hand. If these symptoms occur, immediate treatment by a doctor is necessary.
The hand infections can be treated by a general practitioner. Only in serious cases is a visit to a hospital necessary. Normally, a positive course of the disease occurs quickly.
Treatment & Therapy
Therapy as early as possible prevents the infection from spreading. A graze should be treated at home with disinfectant if possible and then protected with a plaster.
If such a wound does not improve within a few days, a doctor must be consulted. Therapy then requires treatment of the wound and the administration of an antibiotic. If the pain is severe, painkillers can also be taken. It is also very important to check the current vaccination status against tetanus. If necessary, a booster vaccination is necessary. For hand infections that are more advanced, surgery is unavoidable because the affected skin tissue has to be removed.
If the infection is not stopped, the patient is at risk of losing fingers or hands. Blood poisoning (sepsis) must also be prevented. The resulting wound is drained if necessary and must be rinsed regularly. The dressing change is then necessary daily. In order to further promote wound healing in hand infections, the arm is immobilized and the patient should also exert as little strain as possible. With appropriate treatment, hand infections subside quickly.
Outlook & Forecast
A hand infection is usually caused by bacteria. It is difficult to give an accurate view and prognosis with regard to the course of the disease, as this depends on many different factors. In addition, the entire course of the disease is very strongly influenced by whether the affected person consults a doctor or whether the person decides against medical and drug treatment altogether.
If the affected person opts for medical and drug treatment, then nothing stands in the way of a full and speedy recovery. With appropriate or anti-inflammatory drugs, the existing inflammation can be inhibited quickly and effectively.
However, the situation is different if the person concerned decides completely against treatment with medication. Under certain circumstances, the infection spreads throughout the body, so that in the worst case an infection can occur. There is a risk of blood poisoning, so that there is an acute danger to life. In the event of an infection, a doctor should be consulted immediately. This can have a positive influence on the entire healing process.
Hand infections can only be prevented when working with tools or in the garden by using appropriate protective gloves. It is important to monitor the healing process of any injury. If the wound does not heal on its own or if its condition worsens again after a few days, a doctor must be consulted to rule out hand infections.
The options for aftercare for hand infections depend very much on the exact type and severity of the infection, so that no general prediction can be made. In some cases, no follow-up care can be provided or is not necessary, so that only ordinary treatment by a doctor is required. In the case of hand infections, the person concerned should consult a doctor as soon as the first symptoms and signs appear so that further complications or complaints do not arise.
The sooner a doctor is consulted, the better the further course of this complaint. As a rule, hand infections do not reduce the life expectancy of those affected. After such an infection has healed, the palms should not be strained. Work that would affect all hands should be avoided. A bandage can also protect against further infection.
The person concerned should also apply lotion and grease to their hands so that the skin does not crack. If the hand infections are treated by taking antibiotics, the person concerned should ensure that they are taken regularly and that the correct dosage is used. Antibiotics should not be taken together with alcohol, otherwise their effect will be reduced.
You can do that yourself
In the case of hand infections, the first thing to do is to follow the doctor’s instructions regarding wound care and taking medication. The infections or wounds should be cleaned and cared for at home regularly and as prescribed.
If necessary, wash the wound and change dressings. With appropriate hygienic measures, the infections subside more quickly and the hand can be used again more quickly. Under no circumstances should wounds be scratched, and contact with cosmetics and other substances should be avoided.
In principle, the affected hand should be protected by the patient and exposed to little or no stress. Necessary work and handles are to be carried out with the other hand, but overexertion is possible here too and should be avoided.
Because the risk of tendinitis is particularly high when the substitute hand is the normally weak hand, i.e. the left hand in the case of right-handed people. Overall, it is advisable to allow yourself plenty of rest and to keep physical strain on your body and hands to a minimum. It is also important to take prescribed medication as prescribed and to pay attention to any side effects in order to promote general well-being.