Swelling happens when part of your body — such as the organs, skin, or muscle — enlarges. It usually happens because of inflammation or fluid buildup in the body part.
Swelling can be internal or affect outer skin and muscles. It can occur throughout the body or be localized in one specific part.
It’s possible for fingertips to swell up. It can be caused by a variety of conditions. In some cases, you can treat this at home, while others require medical attention.
Fingertip swelling has many causes. It can be a sign of a more serious issue, or harmless and temporary.
In general, infections are a common cause of swelling. An infection in your fingertip is also called a felon. This type of infection affects the pulp, or pad, of your fingertip and causes the small compartments that make up the pulp under your skin to fill with pus.
Felons are usually very painful and throbbing. They most commonly affect the thumb and index finger, and often happen after a puncture wound.
Dactylitis is a type of severe toe and finger joint inflammation. Dactylitis causes swelling and pain, and makes it hard to move your fingers.
The most common cause of dactylitis is psoriatic arthritis. Up to half of people with psoriatic arthritis develop it. Other causes include:
- other types of arthritis
- sickle cell anemia
Trauma or injury
Injuries or trauma to your fingertip can cause swelling. Fingertip injuries are the most common type of hand injuries seen in emergency rooms.
Common fingertip injuries include fractures and crush injuries. They may also cause bruising under the nail bed or cause your fingernail to tear away from the nail bed.
Swelling throughout the body, including the hands and fingers, is common during pregnancy. This swelling, called edema, is caused by a buildup of fluid. The fluid helps your body expand and soften to support fetal growth and helps prepare your joints and tissues for delivery.
While swelling during pregnancy is usually harmless, sudden hand swelling can be a sign of preeclampsia, a serious form of high blood pressure. Preeclampsia requires medical attention as soon as possible.
Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, can cause fingertip swelling. The autoimmune disease that most commonly causes fingertip swelling is arthritis, including psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Arthritis causes joints to swell and stiffen. It also causes pain, warmth, and redness in the joints. It often starts in small joints, such as those in the fingers and toes.
Gout is a chronic disease that causes uric acid to build up in the body. The uric acid forms crystals in your joints, which can be very painful. Uric acid comes from the breakdown of purines, which are found in certain foods, like liver, dried beans and peas, and anchovies.
Symptoms usually start in the big toe but can affect any joint. Attacks may be brief at first but then start to last longer and happen more often if not treated properly.
Gout is more common in men, people who are overweight, people with a family history of gout, and people who eat a lot of food heavy in purines.
Cancer of any type can metastasize to bone. In rare cases, it can metastasize to hand bones. In these cases, the tumor can cause fingertip swelling. Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer to metastasize to hand bones, then kidney cancer, and breast cancer.
Treatment for a swollen fingertip depends on the cause. Sometimes, medical treatment might be necessary. In other cases, you can treat your swollen fingertip at home.
- Steroids can be used to treat swelling caused by autoimmune disorders. They suppress the immune system and stop your body from attacking itself. Steroids can also be used to treat gout.
- Over-the-counter non-steroid anti-inflammatory (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, can be used to treat fingertip swelling.
- If you have a felon that has a lot of pus or doesn’t respond to antibiotics, you may need to have it drained by a doctor.
- Felons may require antibiotics to clear the infection.
- Cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, depends on the type and stage of cancer you have.
- Some trauma or injuries require medical attention. For example, if you have a finger fracture, that will most likely require a splint, but on occasion will require surgery.
Not all swollen fingertips need medical treatment. For example, swelling from pregnancy reduces after you give birth. But you can help relieve symptoms with at-home remedies.
- Lifestyle changes, such as eating food with less salt, can help ease swelling caused by pregnancy. Eating foods with fewer purines can help ease gout symptoms.
- Epsom salt can help reduce pain and swelling. Soak your swollen fingertip for 15 to 20 minutes in warm or cool water mixed with Epsom salt.
- If you have an autoimmune condition, eating anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce swelling. Fish, leafy greens, green tea, and dark chocolate are all great choices. You can also use spices like turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper, and garlic.
- Tea tree oil can help reduce swelling. You can mix it with a carrier oil or a moisturizer and apply it to the infected area. Tea tree oil may also help reduce infection, but it should not be used in place of antibiotics for moderate or severe infections.
Many cases of swollen fingertips can be treated at home. However, it can be a sign of a more serious problem. You should see a doctor if:
- swelling lasts more than three days or happens more than three times a month
- swelling is due to trauma or may be broken
- swelling is very painful
- home remedies don’t help reduce your swelling
- you’re pregnant and your hand suddenly becomes swollen
- there is pus alongside the swelling
- fingertip swelled after a puncture wound