Skin infections can be painful, itchy, uncomfortable, and unsightly. They are also common, with millions of Americans developing skin infections each year. Dermatologists have the training and expertise to diagnose and treat skin infections.
Skin Infection Causes
Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites each cause different types of skin infections. Bacteria can cause cellulitis, staphylococcal (staph) infections, and impetigo. Viruses can cause warts, shingles, and herpes simplex (cold sores). Athlete’s foot and yeast infections develop as the result of fungal infections. Parasitic infections can cause head lice, body lice, and scabies.
Causes of Recurrent Skin Infections
Infections may be recurrent, coming back repeatedly even after treatment. Recurrent infections may be the result of a cut or sore that won’t heal, a weakened immune system, or because of another medical condition or treatment. A dermatologist can determine the underlying cause of recurrent skin infections and suggest a course of treatment that prevents the skin infection from returning.
Types of Skin Infections
Cellulitis occurs when a break in the skin allows bacteria to enter the body. This may occur after injury or a medical procedure. Bacterial infections are typically diagnosed with a simple culture, and they may be treated with topical or oral antibiotics. While not usually serious, it is possible for bacterial skin infections to progress deeper into the tissues or into the blood stream.
Viral infections are common in childhood, though vaccines may help some children avoid chicken pox, measles, and mumps. Herpes simplex virus (HSV) may cause repeated flares of cold sores or genital herpes. Wart viruses cause benign, proliferating bumps in the skin. Shingles is caused by a recurrence of the chicken pox virus later in life. Occasionally, short-lived viral infections may cause a widespread skin rash. Viral cultures and skin biopsies are useful in diagnosing the above conditions while treatment includes oral antiviral medications, oral corticosteroids, or supportive care.
Fungal & Yeast Infection
Most fungal infections take the form of athlete’s foot, “jock itch,” or ringworm, which are all caused by the same fungus living in the outer layers of the skin. It is usually easily treated with topical creams, but more widespread infections are cleared with oral antifungals. Yeast infections occur in warm, moist areas that include the mucosal skin of the mouth or vagina, as well as skin folds in the groin and under the breasts.
Scabies are microscopic mites that live in the outer layers of the skin. They cause itching and irritation and they may be difficult to correctly identify without microscopic examination of skin scrapings. Scabies are highly contagious and many individuals experience a delay in diagnosis. They are readily treated with oral and topical medications, though all of a person’s close contacts need to be treated to achieve lasting resolution. Body lice, while not microscopic, cause similar itching and skin irritation in hair-bearing areas.
Are All Skin Infections Contagious?
Not all skin infections are contagious – only some types of skin infections can spread to other people. It can sometimes be difficult to determine if a skin condition is infectious.
Contagious skin infections include:
- Molluscum Contagiosum
- Chickenpox and shingles
- Cold sores
Non-infectious skin conditions include:
Do Dermatologists Treat Skin Infections?
Dermatologists have the training to diagnose, assess, and treat all sorts of skin conditions, including skin infections. Skin infection diagnosis involves a close examination of the skin. In some cases, skin infection evaluation includes a culture test that helps the dermatologist identify the organism causing the infection. The skin culture may involve surface scrapings of the skin, biopsies, or pus, blisters, or bumps.
It is important to see a dermatologist for skin infection if redness or swelling spreads, a fever develops, or the skin is painful. Treatment for skin infections depends largely on the source and severity of the infection. Antibiotics treat infections caused by bacteria, antiviral medications treat infections caused by viruses, and antifungal drugs treat infections caused by fungus.
Dermatologists treat skin infections with drugs, creams and other therapies. In some cases, such as the human papilloma virus (HPV) infections that cause warts, dermatologists remove the infected tissue.
what is the risk of leaving infections untreated?
Early identification of skin infections can lead to more rapid relief of symptoms, lessen the risk of serious complications, and ensure that the infection does not spread to others.
If you are concerned about a possible skin infection contact Center for Dermatology in Portland/Hillsboro, OR to learn more about our skin infection treatment and schedule an appointment.