A felon is an infection in the fleshy part of the fingertip. If left untreated, a felon can cause a buildup of pus, painful pressure, and damage to nearby tissue.
Prompt medical attention is needed to prevent complications such as spreading infection or death of nearby tissue.
A felon can occur when bacteria enters the body through breaks in the skin like a splinter, a paper cut, or a puncture from a needle. Once the bacteria is in the skin it can grow and cause a reaction from the immune system. The dead bacteria and immune cells build up leading to a collection of pus.
The swelling from the infection and growth of pus can create a lot of pressure in the fingertip. High amounts of pressure can interfere with blood flow to the fingertip and damage nearby tissue.
Factors that may increase your chances of a felon include:
A felon causes rapid, throbbing pain and swelling in the soft tissue of the fingertip. The area may also be red and warm.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. A felon can be diagnosed by an exam of the finger. Further testing may be done to see if there is tissue damage.
A sample of fluid from the area may be taken to find the specific type of bacteria causing the infection. This may help guide treatment for severe infections or infections that don’t respond to standard treatment.
Treatment will focus on eliminating the infection and decreasing the risk of tissue damage.
Treatment will be started right away with broad-spectrum antibiotics. These medications are generally effective for most bacterial infections. Antibiotics may be given through an IV or by mouth. If needed, medications and dosing can be changed based on the specific bacteria.
Surgery may be needed if the swelling is severe or tissue damage is apparent. Surgical steps may include:
It may not be possible to protect yourself from an injury to your finger. If you get a cut, wash it out immediately and apply antibiotic ointment and a bandage. Monitor for signs of infection such as redness, swelling, and warmth. If you notice a growing infection, get prompt medical treatment.
American Academy of Family Physicians
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Public Health Agency of Canada
Cellulitis infection—finger felon. Sports Injury Clinic website. Available at: http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/sport-injuries/wrist-pain/cellulitis-infection-finger. Accessed January 19, 2016.
Clark DC. Common acute hand injuries. Am Fam Physician. 2003;68(11):2167-2176.
Felon. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/musculoskeletal-and-connective-tissue-disorders/hand-disorders/felon. Updated March 2013. Accessed January 19, 2016.
Rigopoulos N, Dailiana ZH, et al. Closed-space hand infections: diagnostic and treatment considerations. Orthop Rev (Pavia). 2012;4(2):e19.
Last reviewed February 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.