Bacteria are everywhere, and that's not always a bad thing. In fact, there are many bacteria that are essential for human life. But, bacteria can also cause skin infections. There are many different types of bacterial skin infections, but some of the most common include impetigo, cellulitis, and folliculitis. Each type of infection has its own unique symptoms and treatment. So, if you think you might have a bacterial skin infection, be sure to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. Treatment typically involves antibiotics, but sometimes other treatments may be needed as well.
What are bacterial skin infections?
Bacterial skin infections are caused by bacteria that enter the body through cuts, abrasions, or other breaks in the skin. The most common types of bacteria that cause skin infections are Staphylococcus and Streptococcus.
Causes of bacterial skin infections
Bacterial skin infections often begin with a break in the skin, which provides an opportunity for bacteria to enter the body. The most common cause of breaks in the skin is scratching or rubbing. Other possible causes include:
- Insect bites
- Animal bites
- Human bites
- Penetrating wounds (such as from a splinter)
Once bacteria are inside the body, they can multiply and cause an infection. The most common type of bacteria that cause skin infections are staphylococci (staph), which are usually found on the skin or in the nose. Other bacteria that can cause skin infections include streptococci (strep), Pseudomonas, and Proteus.
Certain types of skin infections are more likely to occur in certain places on the body. For example, staph infections are often found on the hands, feet, and face, while strep infections are more common on the arms and legs.
Symptoms of bacterial skin infections
The symptoms of a bacterial skin infection depend on the type of bacteria causing the infection and the location of the infection. However, some common symptoms include:
- Pus or drainage from the wound
- Body aches
Treatment of bacterial skin infections
Bacterial skin infections are usually treated with antibiotics. The specific antibiotic used will depend on the type of bacteria causing the infection. In some cases, more than one antibiotic may be needed to treat the infection. Antibiotics can be taken by mouth or applied to the skin as a cream, ointment, or gel.
If the infection is large or severe, you may need to be hospitalized and treated with intravenous (IV) antibiotics. Additionally, surgery may be necessary to remove infected tissue or drain pus from the wound.
Prevention of bacterial skin infections
There are several things you can do to help prevent bacterial skin infections, including:
- Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, especially before touching your face.
- Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, razors, or makeup.
- Don't pick at or pop pimples. This can cause bacteria to spread and lead to more breakouts.
- Shower immediately after sweating, whether from exercise or heat.
- Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a sterile bandage until they heal.
- If you have a cut or scrape that is more than half an inch deep, needs stitches, or involves bone, muscle, tendons, or joints, see a doctor right away.
- Some people are at increased risk for skin infections due to underlying medical conditions. If you have diabetes, eczema, or a weakened immune system, be sure to take extra care of your skin and see a doctor at the first sign of an infection.
- There are also some medications that can make you more susceptible to skin infections.
There are several risk factors that can increase your chance of developing a bacterial skin infection, including:
- Having a weakened immune system.
- Living in close quarters with others (such as in a nursing home).
- Having diabetes.
- Having another chronic skin condition, such as eczema or psoriasis.
- Being overweight or obese.
- Being a smoker.
- Excessive alcohol use.
Complications of bacterial skin infections
Bacterial skin infections can lead to a number of complications, including:
Cellulitis - This is a serious infection of the deeper layers of skin and underlying tissue. It can cause fever, chills, and pain.
Toxic shock syndrome - This is a rare but potentially life-threatening complication that can occur with certain types of bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus. Symptoms include low blood pressure, confusion, and organ failure.
Septicemia - This is a bloodstream infection that can occur when bacteria from a skin infection spread through the body. Symptoms include fever, chills, and rapid heartbeat.
Permanent scarring - Deep or severe skin infections can cause scars.
Amputation - In rare cases, a severe infection may require amputation of the affected limb.
Death - Bacterial skin infections can be fatal if not treated promptly.
Bacterial skin infections are common and often occur on areas of the skin that are injured or have broken skin, such as cuts, scrapes, or burns. These infections can range from mild to severe, and can sometimes lead to serious complications. Early treatment with antibiotics is important to clear the infection and prevent it from spreading. If you think you may have a bacterial skin infection, see your doctor for an evaluation and treatment.