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  5. A Guide To Treating Skin Infections – Bacterial, Viral, Fungal & Parasitic

You spend years perfecting your skin and suddenly you have a skin infection! How do you deal with it? If it makes you confused and clueless, we are here to give you all the answers. Keep reading to know about common skin infections, their symptoms and treatment methods. 

What Are Skin Infections?

Skin infections occur when your skin is invaded by a foreign microorganism like bacteria, fungi, virus or parasite [1]. They can be mild or serious, with the latter requiring medical attention. 

How Does A Skin Infection Start?

The outermost layer of the skin (stratum corneum) forms a protective barrier and prevents harmful microorganisms like bacteria and fungi from entering the skin. When the skin barrier is damaged, your skin is prone to skin infections. 

Physical aggressors like sunlight, smoking, extreme temperatures and wrong skin care products can damage the skin barrier. A cut or a wound can also pave way to infections in the skin [2]. Deeper the infection penetrates, severe the condition. 

Different Types Of Skin Infections & Their Treatments

1. Bacterial Skin Infections

Causes

Bacteria like staphylococcus or streptococcus can enter via a cut or injury on the skin. Weakened immune system makes it easier for the bacteria to enter your skin.

Common bacterial skin infections include cellulitis, impetigo, boils and leprosy. [3]

Treatments

Bacterial infections are treated with topical or oral antibiotics. Severe forms of infections may need intravenous administration of antibiotics.

Name of infection

Cellulitis

Impetigo

Boils (Staph)

Symptoms

Pain, swelling, tenderness

Pus-filled blisters or pustules

Blistered and peeled skin. Fever and chills

Site of appearance

Near skin ulcers or wounds

Face, arms, or legs

Under arms and around the groin

How long will it take to cure?

7-10 days

2 -3 weeks

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Severity

Affects deeper layers and can become serious and life threatening

Usually not serious

Usually not serious

Moisturization

Less hydrating and moisturizing

More hydrating and moisturizing

More hydrating and moisturizing

Who gets it

Common in middle aged and elderly

Common in children

Infants and children under 6

Risk factors

Injury, cut, burn, weakened immune system, obesity

Crowded places, warm and humid climate

Diabetes, weakened immunity, contact from a person with boils

2. Viral Skin Infections

Causes

Viral skin infections are caused by viruses, which are microbes that can multiply only when it is inside a living organism like a human being. Herpes virus, human papillomavirus (HPV) and pox virus groups are the common virus groups that infect the skin. The most common viral skin infections are shingles, chicken pox, warts,measles and hand, foot and mouth disease.[4]

Treatments

Anti-viral treatments are used for viral skin infections. In some cases, your dermatologist may remove the skin growth.

Name of infection

Warts

Herpes

Hand, foot, and mouth disease

Symptoms

Small bumps, rough to touch

Blisters, ulcers, cold sores

Blister, peeling, rashes, or red spots

Site of appearance

Hand, feet

Mouth, groin

Palms, soles of feet and around mouth

How long will it take to cure?

6 months to 2 years

2 - 3 weeks

7 - 10 days

Severity

Not severe but contagious

Not usually serious

Not usually serious

Who gets it

Any age but common in school children

14-49 age group

Infants and upto 5 years old

Risk factors

Skin injuries

Smoking, alcohol, exposure to sun

Contact from other children

3. Fungal Skin Infections

Causes

They are caused by microbes called fungi, which feed on organic matter. Warm and moist surfaces breed fungal infections, which means wearing sweaty clothes or maintaining poor hygiene can lead to the condition. Athletes foot, yeast infection, ringworm, nail fungus, oral thrush and diaper rash are some of the common skin infections caused by fungi. [5]

Treatments

Antifungal creams, gels, sprays are used to treat fungal skin infections. Look for ingredients like zinc, coconut oil, neem oil and tea tree oil. Oral medication like fluconazole may be prescribed in case the infection has not subsided with topical medications.

Name of infection

Athlete’s foot

Ringworm

Yeast infections

Symptoms

Itching and burning between the toes, cracked and dry skin

Fissures, peeling, red rashes, or scaly patches

Rash, itching, patches that ooze fluid

Site of appearance

Feet

Feet, groin

Arm pits, groin

How long will it take to cure?

1 - 4 weeks

2 - 4 weeks

1 - 2 weeks

Severity

Severe and can leave open sores

Usually not serious

Can turn serious

Who gets it

15-40 years

Common in school children

Common in young women

Risk factors

Warm and moist environment, infected persons.

Warm climate, skin to skin contact

Antibiotics, diabetes, birth control, pregnancy and a weakened immune system

4. Parasitic Skin Infection

Causes

Parasitic skin infections are caused by parasites, which are organisms that require a host (human skin in this case) for nutrition. When tiny organisms or insects like lice, bedbugs, scabies live on your skin and lay eggs, it can cause parasitic infections. [6]

Name of infection

Lice

Scabies

Symptoms

Itching

Rash and itching

Site of appearance

Head

Wrist, elbow, armpits, buttocks

How long will it take to cure?

2 weeks

4 weeks

Severity

Not serious

Not serious

Who gets it

Common in school children

Anyone can get scabies

Risk factors

Head to head contact with infected persons

Crowded environments, weakened immune system

How Do You Prevent Skin Infections?

1. Hand Hygiene

Maintain hygiene by washing your hands often [7]. Clean hands prevent the transfer of germs or bacteria to the face and other parts of the body.

2. Shower After A Workout

Make sure you get rid of the sweat from a work out session with a nice warm shower. 

3. Keep Any Wounds Or Cuts Clean

Either cover the cuts with a bandaid or get regular dressings done. 

4. Wear Breathable Fabrics

Tight clothes and synthetic fabrics breed the growth of germs. Wear light, loose-fitting and breathable fabrics. 

5. Do Not Scratch Itches

It may be tempting to scratch an infection or an insect bite. Refrain from doing so as it may worsen the condition. 

6. Vaccinations

Consider vaccination for diseases like chickenpox, shingles, measles and human papillomavirus. 

How Are Skin Infections Diagnosed?

Skin infections are usually diagnosed with a physical examination [8]. Your dermatologist will assess the site of infection and appearance. Other types of skin tests include:

1. Biopsy

Biopsy is done by testing a part of skin tissue that is surgically removed. It is then examined to check for malignancy (cancer causing).

2. Patch Test

Allergens that may be responsible for a person’s skin allergy are applied on a part of the skin. Adhesive patches of identified allergens are left for a period of time. Skin is observed for any reaction. 

3. Skin Culture

Skin scraping is done to test for the presence of bacteria, fungi or virus. 

How Do You Know When A Skin Infection Is Serious?

Skin infection is characterized by symptoms like swelling, pain, blisters, pus from a cut, fever etc. An infection can be considered serious and requires medical attention when there is high fever, extreme pain and swelling that spreads. 

Can A Skin Infection Go Away On Its Own?

Most skin infections go away over time, but some of them can infect blood, lungs or other parts of the body. Topical or oral antibiotics are used to cure skin infections. Severe forms of infections might require medical attention. 

Can Body Fight Skin Infection Without Antibiotics?

Your body’s immune system fights off many kinds of bacteria with its white blood cells. These form a defense system against a lot of microbes. But when the immune system is weakened, it is prone to infections and requires antibiotics. 

Antibiotics are medicines that either destroy bacteria or slow down the growth. Antibiotics should be used sparingly as the body may become resistant to antibiotics after a point.

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