What is a skin infection?
An infection is defined as a disease in any region of the body resulting from invasion by a virus, bacteria, parasite, or other harmful micro-organisms. Sometimes, the skin, which is designed to help defend your body against infection, can become infected itself. This typically occurs when there is an open wound in the skin, which creates a gateway for germs and other micro-organisms to invade and infect the skin.
Skin infections can affect any area of the body including the face, hands, and genital area. Skin infections can also occur in any layer of the skin. However, skin infections that extend into the deeper layers of skin are usually more serious than infections found on surface layers. Treatment of a skin infection will vary based on its severity.
Depending on lifestyle habits, along with other factors, some patients may experience chronic or recurrent skin infections. For example, athletes who frequently play sports may see a reappearance of a fungal infection even after treatment. Patients with weakened immune systems may also experience repeating skin infections.
The causes of skin infections
There are four different types of skin infections: bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic. Depending on the type of infection, the cause will vary.
Bacterial skin infections occur when there is a break in the skin through which bacteria enters. Having a weakened immune system may increase your risk of developing a bacterial skin infection. Common bacterial infections include cellulitis, impetigo, and staph infection.
Viral skin infections are caused by viruses, which can invade the body through skin contact or exchange of bodily fluids. Common viral skin infections include warts, herpes, and human papillomavirus.
Fungal skin infections can occur when there is a break in the skin through which fungi can enter. Exposing the skin to prolonged moisture can increase your risk of developing a fungal infection. Common fungal skin infections include athlete’s foot and yeast infections.
Parasitic infections are caused by microscopic organisms or insects that burrow below the skin and lay eggs. Common parasitic skin infections include head lice, body lice, and scabies.
You may be more prone to skin infections if you:
- Have diabetes
- Have poor circulation
- Have a compromised immune system
- Are lacking proper nutrients in the body
- Are older
- Are on bed rest or immobile for an extended duration
- Have numerous folds in the skin
While older people may be more prone to skin infections, skin infections can occur in anyone, including infants and children.
What are the symptoms of a skin infection?
Symptoms of a skin infection can appear anywhere on the body, including the face, hands, arms, and legs. While symptoms of a skin infection will vary based on the type of infection, common symptoms may include rashes, redness, itching, pain, and tenderness of the affected areas. More severe symptoms of a skin infection include:
- Blistering of the skin
- Pus leaking from the site of infection
- Skin deterioration
- Skin darkening or discoloration (signs that tissue may be dying)
How skin infections are diagnosed
If you are experiencing signs of a skin infection, or if you believe you have a skin infection, a thorough exam by a dermatologist can help confirm a diagnosis. To assess your symptoms, your doctor may start off by reviewing your medical history and symptoms, followed by a thorough exam of the affected skin and surrounding areas. If your doctor believes you have a skin infection, additional testing may be recommended to verify what type of infection is affecting the skin.
Can a skin infection lead to complications if left untreated?
Left untreated, a skin infection can enter the bloodstream and lead to life-threatening conditions. Speak with your doctor immediately if you experience blistering of the skin, pus emitting from the infection site, or deterioration of skin.
How are skin infections treated?
Sometimes infections may go away on their own without requiring treatment. However, if the infection does not go away, or if symptoms appear to worsen, medical treatment may be needed. Depending on whether you have a bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic skin infection, treatment may vary. Your dermatologist will recommend treatment options that may best fit your needs. For example, topical antibiotics are usually recommended to treat bacterial skin infections. Other treatment recommendations for skin infections may include:
- Intravenous antibiotics
- Over-the-counter antifungal sprays
- Oral medications