There are a number of conditions that cause red, burning spots on the fingers. Only your doctor can give you a diagnosis, but here are some of the more common causes of these symptoms and how you can support your own recovery.
Herpetic whitlow is a herpesvirus infection of the skin of a finger. It can be caused by sucking on a finger when you have an active cold sore. Children get it by putting their fingers in the spittle or mucus of people who have active cold sores. The infection can also be transmitted from active herpes sores on the genitals to a finger. Usually the affected area of the skin will "tingle" for a few hours or even a few days before the sore breaks out.
The herb lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) helps relieve pain and accelerate healing of herpetic whitlow. It's best applied directly to the outbreak with a Q-tip, followed by putting a bandage over the infected skin to keep the lemon balm ointment in place. What you don't want to do is to dip your finger into a jar of ointment and contaminate the whole jar for yourself or the next user. Once you have used an applicator of any sort directly on infected skin, dispose of it in a covered trash container out of reach of children.
Whitlow tends to come back. Medications for the strain of herpesvirus causing the finger infection will reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks. When your finger is red and painful, it is infectious.
Herpetic whitlow is not the only condition that causes intensely painful regions of redness and inflammation on the fingers. Similar symptoms are caused by felon, not the human criminal variety, but a closed infection of the fingertip pulp.
The soft tissue of the fingertips is divided by multiple, vertical septa that serve as a barrier to the spread of infection. When an infection starts two grow between two septa, pressure inside the finger can increase. The increased pressure interferes with the flow of blood and surrounding tissue can die. If skin dies, the capsule pops open and spreads dead tissue, deoxygenated blood, and dead and living bacteria. If the skin doesn't die, the infection can spread into bone, tendon, and joints. Septic arthritis and tenosynovitis can set in and cause chronic, severe pain.
Treating a felon usually requires both antibiotics and surgical decompression. The infection needs to be released from the finger before it spreads to bone. This isn't something you can do at home. To avoid injuring nerves in your finger tip, the decompression has be performed by a doctor. It's important not to cut the fascia that connect the muscles in the fingertip to the finger's tendons.
It isn't just infections in the capsule of the fingertip that can cause severe finger pain. Bacterial infections such as cellulitis cause redness, swelling, pain, and heat. Any of a number of different species of bacteria can enter through a microscopic break in the skin and start multiplying inside the finger. A yeast or fungal infection can cause openings in the skin that admit the bacteria that cause cellulitis. These infections can develop anywhere in the finger, although especially underneath the nails, and aren't limited by the tissue that forms capsules in the fingertips.
Like herpes infections, cellulitis tends to come back over and over again. Antibiotics beat back all but the most virulent bacteria, and in time those bacteria manage to multiple to numbers that cause a new infection that has to be treated with a different drug. It's not unheard up for cellulitis in a finger to enter the bloodstream and cause sepsis. That's the reason prompt treatment by a physician is a must. It's also critical to take absolutely all of the antibiotics you are prescribed, or the next round of the infection may come back even sooner. Cellulitis isn't really something you can treat on your own. To get finally free of the condition, treatment by a doctor is a must.
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