You use your fingers for… well, pretty much everything. So when they’re looking a little puffy, you’ll prob notice right away.
Here’s the lowdown on what’s up with your digits — plus, top tips on how to shrink them down to size ASAP.
What causes swollen fingers?
Lots of things can make your fingers swell, including:
- sleeping position
- sodium intake
- sting or bite
- allergic reaction
- premenstrual syndrome
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- sickle cell disease
- Raynaud’s disease
What are typical swollen finger treatments?
The treatment for swollen fingers will depend on the cause. Sometimes you’ll simply need to cool down or let yourself heal, but in other cases it could require medical treatment.
If your swelling doesn’t go away or you’re not sure why it’s happening, contact a healthcare professional. If you experience severe symptoms like intense pain or shortness of breath, get medical help ASAP.
It’s also important to call your doctor immediately if you’re pregnant and experiencing extreme swelling or vision changes. These could be symptoms of a serious complication called preeclampsia.
Your blood vessels expand in response to heat. That helps extra heat escape through your skin, which cools you down.
When you’re exposed to a really hot environment and your blood vessels expand, they might leak some fluid into your soft tissues. This can cause some swelling called a heat edema. It’s usually no big deal unless you have an underlying health condition.
During moderate or intense workouts, your fingers might swell. There isn’t much research on why it happens, but experts think it’s because your body is working hard to pump blood to your heart, lungs, and muscles.
This can direct blood flow away from the vessels in your hands, which could make your blood vessels widen and cause your fingers to swell. The swelling should be temporary and generally isn’t a reason to be alarmed.
How to treat it: Once you stop exercising, the swelling should go down on its own. You can try to keep your arms and fingers moving as much as possible to help this process, though.
If you sleep in a position that puts most of your weight on your hands, you might wake up with swollen hands.
How to treat it: Your fingers will return to normal as you get on with your day. To prevent this the next night, try a different position that doesn’t put pressure on your hands.
When you eat a diet that’s high in salt (like lots of processed foods), your body’s soft tissues will retain extra water. This is called fluid retention.
How to treat it: If you reduce your sodium intake, the swelling should get better. You can also try elevating your hands at night to ease the swelling.
Arthritis can cause swelling in one or more of your joints, including your fingers. There are a few different kinds of arthritis that could be to blame.
This is the most common type of arthritis. It usually affects older folks. Osteoarthritis breaks down the tissues in your joints over time, leading to stiffness and swelling. While it can affect any joint, hands are a common target. Your finger joints may become enlarged to the point that you have trouble getting rings around your knuckles.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease caused by your immune system attacking the lining of your joints. It commonly affects hands and fingers.
How to treat it: If you have RA, your doctor will likely prescribe meds to counteract this immune response. You can also manage your symptoms through diet, exercise, physical therapy, hot and cold treatments, creams, and massage. One study also found that arthritis gloves might help relieve pain.
Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic, inflammatory autoimmune disease of the joints, tendons, and ligaments that connect your bones. And one of the first places it strikes? The small joints of your fingers.
Unlike other kinds of arthritis, it tends to make your entire fingers swell (not just the joints). Swelling of the fingers affects 32 to 48 percent of all people with psoriatic arthritis, according to a 2014 research review.
How to treat it: You can take over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory meds (like ibuprofen) to ease the swelling and pain. A doctor can also prescribe special medication that targets your immune system.
A cut could cause your finger to swell. If your finger was smashed or pinched and it’s in a lot of pain, it could be broken.
How to treat it: If you’re dealing with a minor cut, wash your hands with soap and apply OTC antibiotic ointment and a bandage. If the cut is deep or more severe, you may need stitches. Get medical help ASAP if you notice oozing pus, your pain doesn’t go away, or you can’t move your finger.
If you suspect you’ve broken your finger, contact a doctor. They’ll probably order an X-ray to confirm the injury and then give you a splint to keep you from bending your finger until it’s healed.
If you get bitten or stung by an insect, your hands and fingers may swell.
How to treat it: Most bites and stings typically don’t need medical attention. The swelling should go away on its own over time. If a bite or sting is itchy, you can use OTC hydrocortisone cream.
If you have an allergic reaction to the sting (with symptoms like hives and breathing difficulties) or the animal’s venom is poisonous, get medical help ASAP.
If an injury gets infected, it’ll probably swell. You can also get infections from washing dishes without wearing gloves or from manicures, ingrown nails, hangnails, or nail biting, because bacteria can get under your skin and cause swelling.
How to treat it: Infections can be dangerous and typically require medical attention. Your doctor will probably prescribe oral antibiotics until the infection clears.
Allergic reactions can cause fluid to build up under your skin — this is called angioedema. While it usually causes swelling in your face and neck, it can sometimes affect your fingers too. It’s even more common if you’ve been stung by an insect.
You’ll probably have a rash or redness around the sting site in addition to the swelling. You might even have swelling all over your body.
How to treat it: If you’re dealing with a minor reaction, you can use OTC meds like Benadryl or hydrocortisone cream. Treatment for more severe reactions usually involves antihistamines, steroids, and ice. Seek medical help right away if you develop shortness of breath.
Basically, any hormonal changes involving estrogen and progesterone can cause bloating and swelling. If it’s PMS, you’ll likely have other symptoms, too, like tender breasts, fatigue, cramps, and mood changes.
How to treat it: Getting regular exercise and eating a balanced diet can help.
Some swelling of your fingers and toes is totally normal during pregnancy, especially in your third trimester. But it could also be a symptom of preeclampsia, a complication characterized by high blood pressure.
Symptoms to watch for:
- extreme swelling (i.e., if you press into the swelling, an indentation remains)
- frequent headaches
- vision changes
- abdominal pain
How to treat it: Call your OB-GYN immediately if you think it’s preeclampsia. This is a very serious condition that can cause organ damage or be life threatening to you and your baby.
No, swollen fingers are not the main symptom of CTS (a condition that occurs when the median nerve in the middle of your hand gets compressed). But it can happen.
If you have CTS, you’ll also have symptoms in the rest of your hand and wrist, including:
- muscle weakness
How to treat it: Treatment usually involves avoiding repeated motions like typing, using a mouse, or playing the piano. Your doctor might recommend wearing a splint on your wrist at night. They can also diagnose any underlying conditions that could be compressing your nerves.
Tendonitis is a condition in which your tendons become inflamed, leading to pain and swelling.
How to treat it: In minor cases, you can apply ice to your swollen fingers to reduce blood flow and pain. You can also try gentle range of motion exercises and see a hand specialist. The specialist may be able to give you an injection. If this condition is interfering with your daily life, surgery might be required.
Though gout usually affects your feet, it can sometimes affect the joints of your fingers too. It’s a condition that happens when your body’s production and excretion of uric acid are out of whack.
This leads to lots of uric acid building up in your body, which in turn causes crystals to form in your joints. Yes, it’s painful.
If gout is the cause of your swollen digits, you’ll also have other symptoms, including:
- severe pain
- warm skin around the joint
- hard lumps in the joint
How to treat it: Treatment usually involves medications prescribed by your doc. Studies suggest that losing weight, avoiding dehydration, and changing your diet can help prevent future episodes. Try to avoid alcohol, protein-rich foods, and drinks sweetened with fructose.
Sickle cell disease is a genetic condition that affects your red blood cells. It alters their shape and affects their ability to carry oxygen around your body because they can get trapped in small vessels.
One of the first symptoms of this condition is swelling in your fingers. Other symptoms include:
- frequent infections
How to treat it: Treatments vary but can include intravenous (IV) fluids, blood transfusions, pain medications and other meds, immunizations, and more. If you have sickle cell disease, your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan.
Although it’s a rare condition, lymphedema could be the cause of your swollen fingers.
It’s a condition caused by a blockage in your lymphatic system. That means lymph fluid (which carries bacteria, waste, and viruses out of your body) can’t drain properly and builds up in your extremities — including your fingers.
The condition can happen after surgery or radiation treatments for breast cancer. It can also happen because of other health conditions, like skin infections and blood vessel issues.
How to treat it: Treatment usually involves compression therapy, daily exercise, and lymphatic drainage massage, but surgery might also be necessary.
Another rare condition that can cause swollen fingers is Raynaud’s disease. This condition narrows your arteries, limiting blood circulation throughout your body. No one knows exactly what causes it, but it’s most common in people assigned female at birth.
It can cause swelling and other symptoms, including:
- skin color changes
- swelling in your toes
How to treat it: There’s no cure for Raynaud’s, but if you do get this diagnosis, don’t panic. You can manage the condition with the help of your doctor. Try to keep your hands warm and, if you smoke cigarettes, try to quit. Your doctor may also prescribe oral medications or creams.
Scleroderma is an autoimmune condition that changes your skin. It can also affect your organs and the connective tissues in your body.
One of its earliest symptoms is hand and finger swelling, especially first thing in the morning. Other symptoms include:
How to treat it: Treatment can include finger exercises, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory meds.
There are lots of reasons your fingers might be swollen that can resolve on their own. But if your swelling doesn’t go away, gets worse, is really painful, or seems to be chronic, contact a doctor to get to the bottom of what’s going on.
If you experience other severe symptoms related to the causes listed above, like shortness of breath or hives, call 911 or your local emergency number.
If you’re pregnant and you’re experiencing extreme swelling, frequent headaches, vision changes, and abdominal pain, don’t wait. Get medical help ASAP. These could be symptoms of preeclampsia, a condition that can be life threatening.
Occasional finger swelling can be annoying and uncomfortable but is probably nothing to be concerned about. But if your swelling isn’t going away, it’s best to talk with a doc.