Infected thumb

Hi there -

Had a very small splinter in my thumb and regrettably, decided to leave it alone. The area around the splinter began to swell until the whole tip of my thumb looked infected and gross really!

Dr gave me an antibiotic and it helped to minimize the swelling a little bit. I just finished another round of a different antibiotic and it has done nothing as far as I can see. The Doc was also afraid to poke around to find the splinter. I did have an x ray and ultrasound and very, very small they said.

Any ideas?



Oops - diagnosed SLL January 2014, Chemo (B&R) starting April 2014, NED and W&W to present

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11 Replies

  • Ouch springie!...sounds sore and treatment obviously best left to the medics. But I wondered if you'd tried the baking soda paste method to ease out the tiny remnant? Here's a description of how it's done. Good luck!


  • Thanks Newdawn! I was told by Dr's to use hot water with Epsom salts. I will try the baking soda today.


  • Hi Springie,

    Unfortunately it's not the size of the splinter, but whether the splinter has infectious bacteria. In your case we know that's the case :( .

    I'm not medically trained but I have ended up in hospital on IV antibiotics in similar circumstances. In my case just a very small cut that barely drew blood became infected and my entire finger and then hand and wrist became swollen. IV antibiotics appeared to get rid of the infection and I was discharged after four days. The infection came back with a vengeance a few weeks later and required an oral course of Ciprofloxacin (a fluoroquinolone with some rather concerning side effect risks) to hopefully finally deal with it.

    1) You say you have NED - No evidence of disease. Does that mean that your neutrophil count and immunoglubulins are in the normal range? (That is, your body is able to deal with infections fairly well?) You would most likely have some level of immune dysfunction from your CLL and BR treatment and your swollen thumb would indicate that your body is struggling to kill off the bacteria on the splinter.

    2) Do you know what the splinter is or where it came from? If it is a wood splinter or something rusty (i.e. something with a large surface area that provides a reservoir for bacteria that your white blood cells can't easily get to), then ideally it should be removed, but then you've got the risk of the bacteria being spread further during the surgery. That's probably why the doctor was afraid to poke around.

    Definitely give the splinter removal method suggested by Newdawn a try, but I suspect you'll need to get your haematologist specialist involved to guide your doctor on what's the best course. At the very least, draw around the swelling on your thumb with some indelible ink so you can monitor the infection to see if it is resolving or worsening. You particularly need to be on the lookout for lymphangitis, when the bacteria get into your lymph system and thereby into your blood system, which is a serious condition that needs immediate attention. The picture under lymphangitis on this site shows you what this looks like:

    I know it feels silly to bother doctors about a small splinter, but bacteria are so small that if you had one perfectly round tiny tiny splinter just 0.1mm in diameter (i.e. coarse hair width), you could encircle that splinter just once with a thousand golden staph bacteria without considering the splinter's length - and if the splinter is porous...


  • Thanks Neil,

    What a terrible outcome in your case. And this is exactly why I've been worrying. I have NED for SLL (I had life threatening size and location of swollen nodes), and Stage O CLL. All blood levels normal throughout. I am waiting for new blood work at the end of the 3 month wait.

    The splinter is likely some type of plant matter - I live in a high desert with sage brush and the like. I take a lot of walks in this stuff.

    Drawing the outline of the infection is a good idea. It seems that what is swelling or receding is the height of the infected area, vs the outline though and I assume that this is a good thing.

    The end of your reply has me sufficiently scared!

    Thanks Neil,


  • Springie, if you are right about the source and splinter type and your inflammation is vertical rather than outwards, then for what my non medically trained opinion is worth, I'd say you're probably safe from having an antibiotic resistant infection and you won't have much more happen. It's probably just that the splinter is reinfecting your finger and needs removing, so I hope the tips provided by others will work for you. At least now you know what warning signs to look for.

    My infection came from a home bathroom tap when I was replacing a leaking washer - a plumber would have been far far cheaper and a great deal less painful! I had difficulty sleeping because of the pain and had to have a ring cut off one finger.


  • Thanks Neil,

    More good info. Yay plumbers!

    I really appreciate your thoughts, ideas and time.


  • If the splinter shows on ultrasound, but the doctor is hesitant about digging for it, it sounds like it must be well embedded. I would guess that you have already tried soaking in hot water to try to bring the infection to a head. If not, ask before trying it or the baking soda method. There might be a reason for them not being recommended. You don't want to make things worse. I had a mosquito bite several years ago that left my arm swollen from finger tips to elbow - hard, red, and hot to touch. I had never had a cellulitis infection before. I'm glad I didn't go with hot compresses, as I think that would have just made things worse.

  • Hi pkenn,

    I was told to soak in the hottest possible water and Epsom salts. I do wonder why you're glad that you didn't go with hot compresses - can you tell me why?



  • A cellulitis infection is not the same as the type that ends up full of pus and hopefully comes to a head and can be opened and drained. They spread cell to cell under the skin. I never asked the doctor, but suspect that hot compresses might have been counter productive. I had one other one on my hand, caused by a rooster attack - really! I got keflex for the first one and augmenten for the second one. In both cases the doctor treating never suggested the typical hot compress approach. I'll have to ask, next time I have an appointment, if my instincts about why are correct.


  • You could have a mrsa infection with the splinter. They should do a culture and if it is mrsa, they would determine the proper antibiotic. I would involve your hematologist - i had 2 rounds of antibiotics and my neutrophils dropped to zero. And - i have used the baking soda method - put it on gauze as a paste overnight -worked wonderfully. Ruth

  • Hi Ruth,

    Sure hope it isn't MRSA and I hope to get the results of the blood tests I'll have soon. Looks like the baking soda method is a winner. I'll start today!



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