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Hand Abscess

by David R. Steinberg, MD

A hand abscess is an accumulation of pus affecting the hand, usually caused by a bacterial infection.

Abscesses in the hands are fairly common and usually result from injury. A superficial abscess may develop just under the skin anywhere in the hand and nearly always results from a minor injury, such as a splinter or needle prick. Severe pain, warmth, and redness develop over the abscess, often with swelling of lymph nodes in the armpit. An abscess may occur in any part of the palm and spread between the metacarpal bones (the hand bones between the wrist and fingers). Such an infection may occur after the skin is ripped or the hand is punctured by something sharp. Palm abscesses may develop from an infected callus. Palm abscesses begin as intense throbbing pain with swelling and severe tenderness when touched. The swelling and pain may be greater at the top of the hand than on the palm.

Doctors base the diagnosis on an examination. They do x-rays to detect any foreign bodies (such as a tooth fragment, needle, or other object) that may be hidden under the skin.

Treatment involves surgically draining the pus. Antibiotics also are given.