Skin Infections overview

Skin is the largest organ of the human body. Its function is to protect the body from infection but sometimes the skin itself becomes infected. Skin infections are caused by a wide variety of germs (bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites), 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.

The symptoms of a skin infection vary depending on the type. Common symptoms include redness of the skin and a rash. Other symptoms may include itching, pain, and tenderness. If pus-filled blisters are present, or a skin infection doesn’t improve or it gets progressively worse a doctor must be consulted as skin infections can spread beyond the skin and into the bloodstream. When this happens it can become life-threatening.

Paronychia is an infection of the skin around fingernails and toenails. Bacteria or a type of yeast called Candida typically cause this infection, and they can come combined. The symptoms of paronychia are easy to spot: redness and tenderness of the skin around the nail, pus-filled blisters, changes in nail shape, color, or texture, and finally detachment of the nail. It can usually be easily and successfully treated. If not treated appropriately, paronychia can become severe.

Paronychia can be either acute or chronic depending on the speed of onset, the duration, and the infecting agents. The symptoms of both acute and chronic paronychia are very similar. They are distinguished from each other by the speed of onset and the duration of the infection. Chronic infections come on slowly and last for many weeks. Acute infections develop quickly and don’t last long.

An acute infection almost always occurs around the fingernails and develops quickly. It’s usually the result of damage to the skin around the nails from biting, picking, hangnails, manicures, or other physical trauma. Staphylococcus and Enterococcus bacteria are common infecting agents in the case of acute paronychia. Chronic paronychia can occur on fingers or toes, and it comes on slowly. It lasts for several weeks and often comes back. It’s typically caused by more than one infecting agent, often Candida yeast and bacteria. It’s more common in people who’re constantly working in water. Chronically wet skin and excessive soaking disrupts the natural barrier of the cuticle. This allows yeast and bacteria to grow and get underneath the skin to create an infection.

Folliculitis is a common skin condition in which hair follicles become inflamed. It's usually caused by a bacterial or fungal infection. At first it may look like small red bumps or white-headed pimples around hair follicles — the tiny pockets from which each hair grows. The infection can spread and turn into non healing, crusty sores. The condition isn't life-threatening, but it can be itchy, sore and embarrassing. Severe infections can cause permanent hair loss and scarring. Mild cases are likely to clear in a few days with basic self-care measures. For more serious or recurring folliculitis, a prescription medicine may be needed.

The two main types of folliculitis are superficial and deep. The superficial type involves part of the follicle, and the deep type involves the entire follicle and is usually more severe. Forms of superficial folliculitis include bacterial folliculitis (staphylococcus aureus); hot tub folliculitis (pseudomonas folliculitis); razor bumps (skin irritation caused by ingrown hair);  pityrosporum  folliculitis (yeast infection). Forms of deep folliculitis include: Sycosis barbae; gram-negative folliculitis; boils (furuncles) and carbuncles ( deep hair follicles infection with staph bacteria); eosinophilic folliculitis (mainly affects people with HIV/AIDS, the cause is unknown).

Acne is a skin condition that occurs when hair follicles become plugged with oil and dead skin cells. It often causes whiteheads, blackheads or pimples, and usually appears on the face, forehead, chest, upper back and shoulders. Acne is most common among teenagers, though it affects people of all ages. Effective treatments are available, but acne can be persistent. The pimples and bumps heal slowly, and when one begins to go away, others seem to crop up. Depending on its severity, acne can cause emotional distress and scar the skin. The earlier the treatment starts, the lower is the risk of such problems.

Acne signs and symptoms vary depending on the severity of the condition: whiteheads (closed plugged pores); blackheads (open plugged pores); small red, tender bumps (papules); pimples (pustules), which are papules with pus at their tips; large, solid, painful lumps beneath the surface of the skin (nodules); painful, pus-filled lumps beneath the surface of the skin (cystic lesions).

If self-care remedies don't clear acne, primary care doctor needs to be consulted as he or she can prescribe targeted medications. If acne persists or is severe, your GP may  a patient to a doctor who specializes in the skin (dermatologist).

For many women, acne can persist for decades, with flares common a week before menstruation. This type of acne tends to clear up without treatment in women who use contraceptives.
In older adults, a sudden onset of severe acne may signal an underlying disease requiring medical attention.

Impetigo is a common, highly contagious bacterial skin infection. It mostly affects young children and infants. However people of any age can get it from contact with someone who is infected.

This acute, highly contagious infection of the superficial layers of the epidermis is primarily caused by Streptococcus pyogenes or Staphylococcus aureus. Secondary skin infections of existing skin lesions (eg, cuts, abrasions, insect bites, chickenpox) can also occur.  Methicillin-resistant S aureus (MRSA)  and gentamicin-resistant S aureus strains have also been reported to cause impetigo.  Impetigo is classified as either nonbullous (impetigo contagiosa) (about 70% of cases)  or bullous (30% od the cases).

Molluscum contagiosum is a skin infection caused by a virus called the Molluscum contagiosum virus. It produces benign raised lesions, or bumps, on the upper skin layers. Small bumps are usually painless. They disappear on their own and rarely leave scars when left untreated. The length of time the virus lasts varies for each person, but the bumps can last from two months to four years.

Molluscum contagiosum is spread by direct contact with the lesion of an infected person or by contact with a contaminated object, such as a towel or a piece of clothing. Medication and surgical treatments are available, but treatment isn’t necessary in all cases. The virus can be more difficult to treat if a person has a weakened immune system.

 

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