Updated: October 9, 2018
Skin is the largest organ of the body whose function is to protect your body from infection. But, sometimes the skin itself gets 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 severe infections may require medical attention.
There are four different types of skin infections:
Bacteria are microscopic, single cell organisms that live almost everywhere including every climate and location on earth. Some are airborne while others live in water or soil. Bacteria live on and inside plants, animals, and people. Bacteria actually perform many vital functions for organisms and in the environment. Bacteria in the soil are essential for plants to grow. The presence of good bacteria in human gastrointestinal tract helps in digestion and produce vitamins. They also help with immunity, fighting against bad bacteria and other harmful pathogens.
However, few strains of bacteria are capable of making people sick. Bacterial skin infections are usually caused by gram-positive strains of Staphylococcus and Streptococcus or other organisms. Common bacterial skin infections include:
It causes a painful, red infection that is usually warm to the touch. Cellulitis occurs most often on the legs, but it can appear anywhere on the body.
It is an infection of the hair follicles that causes red, swollen bumps that look like pimples. Improperly treated pools or hot tubs can harbor bacteria that cause folliculitis.
It causes oozing sores, usually in preschool aged children. The bullous form of impetigo causes large blisters while the non-bullous form has a yellow, crusted appearance.
These are deep skin infections that start in hair follicles. Boils are firm, red, tender bumps that progress until pus accumulates underneath the skin.
Bacterial skin infections often begin as small, red bumps that slowly increase in size. These can be treated with oral or topical antibiotics depending on the strain causing the infection.
Viruses are small particles of genetic material either DNA or RNA that are surrounded by a protein coat. Some viruses also have a fatty envelope covering. They are incapable of reproducing on their own and depend on the organisms they infect for their very survival. Viruses also perform many important functions for humans, plants, animals, and the environment. For example, some viruses protect the host against other infections. Viral skin infections can range from mild to severe and often produce a rash. Examples of viral skin infections include:
It causes small, flesh-colored bumps most often in children ages 1 to 10 years old. However, people of any age can acquire the virus. Usually the bumps disappear without treatment in 6 to 12 months.
This is the common virus that causes cold sores. It is transmitted through saliva by kissing or sharing food or drink with an infected individual. Sometimes, HSV-1 causes genital herpes.
It causes itchy, oozing blisters, fatigue, and high fever characteristic of chickenpox. The chickenpox vaccine is almost effective in preventing infection. People who have had chickenpox or people who have received the chickenpox vaccine are at risk for developing shingles, an illness caused by the same virus which is very rare. Shingles can occur at any age, but it occurs most often in people age 60 or older.
The best way to avoid viral skin infections is to avoid skin-to-skin contact, especially areas that have a rash or sores with an infected individual. Some viral skin infections, such as varicella-zoster virus, are also transmitted by an airborne route. Communal showers, swimming pools, and contaminated towels can also potentially harbor certain viruses. Precautions can be taken in all these cases to prevent skin infection.
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 are neither contagious nor life-threatening.
Different types of fungal infections are:
This is a type of fungal infection that usually begins between the toes. It commonly occurs in people whose feet have become very sweaty while confined within tight fitting shoes.
Signs and symptoms of athlete's foot include a scaly rash that usually causes itching, stinging and burning. Peeling, cracking, and scaling of the feet are the most common symptoms. It is contagious and can be spread via contaminated floors, towels or clothing.
Candida or yeast is a fungus that lives almost everywhere, including in your body. Usually, your immune system keeps yeast under control. If you are sick or taking antibiotics, it can multiply and cause an infection. Yeast infections of the skin cause itching and rashes. This infection is especially common among people who are obese or who have diabetes. People taking antibiotics are also at risk.
Ringworm, also known as dermatophytosis or tinea, is a fungal infection of the skin. The infection initially presents with red patches on affected areas of the skin and later spreads to other parts of the body. The infection may affect the skin of the scalp, feet, groin, beard, or other areas.
Thrush is a yeast infection that causes white patches in your mouth. Oral thrush causes creamy white lesions, usually on your tongue or inner cheeks. Sometimes oral thrush may spread to the roof of your mouth, your gums or tonsils, or the back of your throat.
Nail fungus is a common condition that begins as a white or yellow spot under the tip of your fingernail or toenail. As the fungal infection goes deeper, nail fungus may cause your nail to discolor, thicken and crumble at the edge. It can affect several nails.
Diaper rash is a common condition that can make the skin sore, red, scaly, and tender. Most cases will clear up with simple changes in diapering.
Usually, diaper rash is the result of an irritation, fungal infection, or allergy.
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:
Lice are tiny, wingless, parasitic insects that feed on your blood. Lice can be easily spread, especially by schoolchildren through close personal contact and by sharing belongings.
Scabies is a skin infection caused by a mite known as the Sarcoptes scabiei. Left untreated, these microscopic mites can live on your skin for months. They reproduce on the surface of your skin and then burrow into it and lay eggs causing an itchy, red rash to form on the skin.
Bedbugs are small, wingless insects that feed exclusively on the blood of warm blooded animals. Humans are the preferred hosts for the two main species.
Cutaneous larva migrans abbreviated CLM is a skin disease in humans, caused by the larvae of various nematode parasites of the hookworm family. The most common species causing this disease in the Americas is Ancylostoma braziliense.
The infection causes a red, intensely pruritic eruption. The itching can become very painful and may allow a secondary bacterial infection to develop if scratched. Cutaneous larva migrans usually heals spontaneously over weeks to months and has been known to last as long as one year.
The symptoms varies depending on the type of skin infection. Common symptoms include redness of the skin and a rash. Itching, pain, and tenderness are some of the other symptoms. If you have pus-filled blisters or a skin infection that doesn't improve with over the counter medicine or home remedies, you should see a doctor. It can be life-threatening when skin infections can spread beyond the skin and into the bloodstream.
A severe infection may include:
The cause of a skin infection depends on the type of infection.
When bacteria enter the body through a break in the skin, such as a cut or a scratch, this type of infection occurs . Getting a cut or scratch doesn't necessarily mean you will develop a skin infection, but it does increase your risk if you have a weakened immune system. A decreased immune system can develop due to chronic illness or the side effect of medication.
The most common viruses causing viral skin infection comes from one of three groups of viruses named as poxvirus, human papillomavirus, and herpes virus.
Many a times the cause of of a fungal infection can be body chemistry and lifestyle. For example, if you are a runner or if you sweat a lot, you may experience multiple bouts of athlete's foot. As fungi often grow in warm, moist environments, wearing sweaty or wet clothes is a risk factor for skin infections. Bacteria may get into the deeper layers of the skin in case of break or cut in the skin.
The cause of a parasitic skin infection can be due to tiny insects or organisms excavate underneath your skin and laying eggs.
The best way to determine the cause of all type of skin infection is medical examination. Most 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 all type of skin infection there are some unique features that help distinguish it from others. For example, ringworm often causes a distinct circular, scaly rash.
In other cases, where it is difficult to identify it or confirm the type, a sample of skin cells or tissue can be taken for biopsy which can help your doctor determine the type of infection.
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 without any treatment.
Bacterial infections are often treated with topical antibiotics applied directly to the skin. Oral antibiotics can also be used for more severe cases. Bacterial infection may require intravenous antibiotics administered in the hospital if the strain of bacteria is resistant to treatment.
Over the counter anti-fungal sprays and creams are most often effective to treat a fungal skin infection. You should ask your doctor about prescription oral or topical creams if your condition doesn't improve with this. Medicated creams can be applied to your skin to treat parasitic skin infections. Medications like anti-inflammatory drugs may also be recommended by your doctor to reduce discomfort.
Alternative treatments are there to reduce symptoms are also available which may include the following:
Maintaining good hygiene can reduce the chances of developing a skin infection. Frequent hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent skin infection. The type of infection which are contagious can be prevented from spreading by avoiding close contact and sharing personal things from that individual who is having the infection.
Skin infections can vary from mild to severe. If you have a skin condition that is causing discomfort, you need immediate medical attention . Your doctor will be able to provide the necessary treatment for recovery.
The prognosis for a skin infection varies depending on the cause and severity. 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.