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How to treat whitlow

A whitlow is a painful and contagious infection on the fingers due to herpes simplex virus. The 2 types of herpes simplex virus – type 1 and type 2 which both causes herpetic whitlow. This condition happens when a break in the skin in the finger comes in direct contact with infected body fluids with herpes simplex virus.

Whitlow causes pain, itchiness, redness and swelling on the fingers. Blisters will develop on the fingers, fever, enlarged lymph nodes or red streaks that spread on the hands or arms. These symptoms indicate a serious condition.

Symptoms of whitlow

  • Itchy feeling

    Whitlow causes pain, itchiness, redness and swelling on the fingers.

  • Development of small blisters and bumps
  • Blisters or sores in other areas of the body
  • Redness, swelling and warmth of the affected area
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the arms especially near the elbow or underarm
  • Fever
  • Tingling or burning sensations in the hands
  • Red streaks on the arms or lymphangitis
  • High fever, confusion or loss of consciousness for a few minutes, fatigue, and unusual pain requires immediate treatment.
  • Symptoms in the disease stage – the vesicles may burst and a white, clear and bloody fluid will flow out along with swelling, redness and rashes with presence of vesicles filled with fluid around the area. Eventually, these vesicles can merge, turns black/brown in color and the skin may develop ulceration.


  • Take the prescribed antiviral medication in the form of cream or oral to lessen the severity of the condition and fast healing of the condition.
  • Take analgesic such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen to lessen the pain and fever. Topical anesthetics such as lidocaine, benzocaine and tetracaine can lessen the itchiness and pain on the fingers.
  • Avoid touching the other areas of the body such as the mouth, ears, eyes, genitals and breast using the infected finger to prevent spreading of the disease.
  • Wrap the infected finger using a bandage, a small cloth or any form of dry wrap and secured with a medical tape. Keep the bandages fresh by changing them regularly and wear a glove over it for added protection and lessen the spread of the disease.
  • Avoid picking on the vesicles to prevent the risk of developing infections. The fluid that drains out of the vesicle carries the virus, spread the infection and worsen the condition.
  • In a bowl filled with warm water, add a teaspoon of salt or Epsom salt and mix well until salt is totally dissolved. Soak the infected finger in the solution for at least 15 minutes to lessen pain and swelling. After the soak, wrap the affected area using a dry bandage to prevent the spread of the disease.
  • If there is an open blister, soak the affected finger in water mixed with regular or antibacterial soap to prevent bacteria and infection.
  • Apply an ice pack on the affected finger to relieve the pain, swelling and inflammation.

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