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Skin Infection: Types, Causes, and Treatment

What is a skin infection?

Your skin is the largest organ of your body. Its function is to protect your body from infection. Sometimes the skin itself becomes infected. Skin infections are caused by a wide variety of germs, and symptoms can vary from mild to serious. Mild infections may be treatable with over-the-counter medications and home remedies, whereas other infections may require medical attention. Read on to learn more about skin infections and what to do if you have one.

What are the types of skin infections?

The following are four different types of skin infections:

1. Bacterial skin infections

Bacterial skin infections often begin as small, red bumps that slowly increase in size. Some bacterial infections are mild and easily treated with topical antibiotics, but other infections require an oral antibiotic. Different types of bacterial skin infections include:

2. Viral skin infections

Viral skin infections are caused by a virus. These infections range from mild to severe. Different types of viral infections include:

3. Fungal skin infections

These types of skin infections are caused by a fungus and are most likely to develop in damp areas of the body, such as the feet or armpit. Some fungal infections aren’t contagious, and these infections are typically non-life-threatening.

Different types of fungal infections:

4. Parasitic skin infection

These types of skin infections are caused by a parasite. These infections can spread beyond the skin to the bloodstream and organs. A parasitic infection isn’t life-threatening but can be uncomfortable.

Different types of parasitic skin infections include:

Pictures of types of skin infections

What are the symptoms of a skin infection?

The symptoms of a skin infection also vary depending on the type. Common symptoms include redness of the skin and a rash. You may also experience other symptoms, such as itching, pain, and tenderness.

See a doctor if you have pus-filled blisters or a skin infection that doesn’t improve or gets progressively worse. Skin infections can spread beyond the skin and into the bloodstream. When this happens it can become life-threatening.

Signs of a severe infection include:

What are causes and risk factors for a skin infection?

The cause of a skin infection depends on the type of infection.

Bacterial skin infection: This occurs when bacteria enter the body through a break in the skin, such as a cut or a scratch. Getting a cut or scratch doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop a skin infection, but it does increase your risk if you have a weakened immune system.

A decreased immune system can be the result of an illness or the side effect of medication.

Viral skin infection: The most common viruses come from one of three groups of viruses: poxvirus, human papillomavirus, and herpes virus.

Fungal infection: Body chemistry and lifestyle can increase the risk of a fungal infection. For example, you may experience multiple bouts of athlete’s foot if you’re a runner or if you sweat a lot. Fungi often grow in warm, moist environments. Wearing sweaty or wet clothes is a risk factor for skin infections. A break or cut in the skin may allow bacteria to get into the deeper layers of the skin.

Parasitic skin infection: Tiny insects or organisms burrowing underneath your skin and laying eggs can cause a parasitic skin infection.

How is a skin infection diagnosed?

A good medical exam is the best way to determine what is causing a skin infection. Often, doctors can identify the type of skin infection based on the appearance and location.

Your doctor may ask about your symptoms and closely examine any bumps, rashes, or lesions. For example, ringworm often causes a distinct circular, scaly rash. In other cases, a sample of skin cells can help your doctor determine the type of infection.

How is a skin infection treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of the infection and the severity. Some types of viral skin infections may improve on their own within days or weeks.

Bacterial infections are often treated with topical antibiotics applied directly to the skin or with oral antibiotics. If the strain of bacteria is resistant to treatment, treating the infection may require intravenous antibiotics administered in the hospital.

You can use over-the-counter antifungal sprays and creams to treat a fungal skin infection. If your condition doesn’t improve, ask your doctor about prescription oral or topical creams. In addition, you can apply medicated creams to your skin to treat parasitic skin infections. Your doctor may also recommend medications to reduce discomfort like anti-inflammatory drugs.

Home care and alternative treatments

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

  • Apply cold compresses to your skin several times a day to reduce itching and inflammation.
  • Take over-the-counter antihistamines to decrease itching.
  • Use topical creams and ointment to reduce itching and discomfort.

Ask your doctor what you can do.

Outlook for a skin infection

The prognosis for a skin infection varies depending on 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 are more difficult to treat.

Skin infection prevention

There are several ways to reduce the chances of developing a skin infection. Frequent hand washing is one of the best ways.

Tips

  1. Use mild soap or an alcohol-based sanitizing gel regularly, especially after shaking hands.
  2. Change wet, sweaty clothes, socks, and shoes to reduce the chances of contracting fungal skin infections.
  3. Cover sores or wounds to decrease the chances of bacteria entering an open wound and causing an infection.
  4. Avoid sharing personal items such as razors, combs, and athletic equipment.
  5. Wash contaminated items with hot water and soap. Add bleach for sheets and towels.

Skin infections can vary from mild to severe. Make an appointment with your doctor if you have a skin condition that’s causing discomfort. Your doctor will be able to provide the necessary treatment for recovery.

Keep reading: Skin disorders »

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