Q. Recently my left big toe swelled up, formed something like small blisters and itched and burned. I knew this wasn’t normal, so I went to the doctor.
The physicians’ assistant diagnosed the problem as “herpetic whitlow.” She prescribed acyclovir to speed recovery. I couldn’t afford it and when I learned it wouldn’t cure the problem, I went without. I took diphenhydramine to help me sleep through the itch. It seemed to reduce the swelling a bit as well.
I’ve never heard of herpetic whitlow before. What can you tell me about it?
A. Most people have seen cold sores and fever blisters on or near the mouth, caused by herpes simplex virus. The herpes virus can also get into small cuts or abrasions on the fingers or toes and cause painful swelling, blisters and itching. The medical term for this type of sore is “herpetic whitlow.”
Acyclovir or other anti-herpes drugs such as valacyclovir or famciclovir can help ease symptoms of whitlow, but they should go away on their own.
Here is a link to a picture and more complete discussion of this skin condition: