Skin Infection

Written by MaryAnn DePietro | Published on January 22, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on January 22, 2014

What Is a Skin Infection?

The skin covers the organs, tissues, bones, and muscles of the body. An important function of the skin is to protect the body from infection. Skin infections can be caused by a wide variety of germs, and symptoms can vary in severity. In some cases, infections can spread beyond the skin and into the bloodstream.

What Are the Types of Skin Infection?

There are several types of skin infection. The type of infection often depends on the cause. For example, impetigo is a skin infection caused by a bacterial infection. Some common types of skin infections are:

  • boils
  • cellulitis
  • rubella
  • fifths disease
  • yeast infection
  • ringworm
  • methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)

What Causes a Skin Infection?

The three main causes of a skin infection are bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Many types of bacteria can cause a skin infection. According to the New York State Department of Health, the two most common are staphylococcus aureus and streptococcus.

Viral skin infections are most often caused by one of three groups of viruses: poxvirus, human papillomavirus, and herpes simplex virus (Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin).

Skin infections can also be caused by fungi, most commonly yeast.

Who Is at Risk for a Skin Infection?

Several factors can increase a person’s risk of developing a skin infection. A decreased immune system can be caused by an illness or a side effect of medication. This can increase the chances of a skin infection. In addition, fungi often grow in warm, moist environments. Wearing sweaty or wet clothes can be a risk factor for skin infections. A break or cut in the skin may allow bacteria to get into the deeper layer of the skin (Minnesota Department of Health).

What Are the Symptoms of a Skin Infection?

The symptoms of a skin infection can vary depending on the type. A common symptom includes redness of the skin. A rash may also develop. In some cases, such as cellulitis, swelling can also occur. Sores, blisters, and lesions can also be symptoms of certain skin infections.

How Is a Skin Infection Diagnosed?

A skin infection can be diagnosed with a medical exam. In some cases, a culture of skin cells helps a doctor determine what type of fungus or bacteria is present.

How Is a Skin Infection Treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of the infection and severity. Some types of viral skin infections may not require treatment. Bacterial infections are often treated with medications such as antibiotics. Medication is often administered directly on to the skin.

When the infection is moderate to severe, oral antibiotics or possibly intravenous medication may be needed. Medications to reduce discomfort, such as anti-inflammatory medications, may be recommended.

Home Care and Alternative Treatments

Home care for a skin infection works to reduce symptoms. Home care may include the following:

  • Cold compresses can be applied several times a day to reduce itching and inflammation.
  • Over-the-counter antihistamines may help decrease itching.
  • Topical creams and ointment can be applied to the skin to help reduce itching and discomfort.

What Is the Outlook For a Skin Infection?

The prognosis for a skin infection varies depending the cause. Most types of bacterial infections respond well to medications. Certain strains of bacteria, such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), are resistant to common antibiotics and can be harder to treat.

How Are Skin Infections Prevented?

There are several ways to reduce the chances of developing a skin infection. Frequent hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent skin infections. Changing quickly out of wet, sweaty clothes can reduce the chances of fungal skin infections. Covering open sores or wounds can decrease the chances of bacteria entering the skin and causing an infection.

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