Our skin is a layer of cells and tissues that covers our entire body and protects the flesh, bones and organs underneath. It is the largest organ of our body. Besides serving as the first physical layer of protection for our body, our skin is also a sensory organ which feeds us the inputs of touch and sensation. Being the outermost part of our body, it can often be a receptacle for a wide variety of germs such as bacteria and fungus. These can sometimes result in infections of the skin, which manifest themselves in the form of mild to severe symptoms. Skin infections can be mainly classified into four types, based on the type of pathogens causing them: Bacterial, Viral, Fungal and Parasitic skin infections. Let us know more about the different skin infections and ways to treat them:

Bacterial Skin Infections: Common causes of bacterial infections are poor hygiene, trauma, and prior cases of skin disease and in rare cases defective immunity of the host. The different types of bacterial infections are explained below:

  • Leprosy: It is a progressive infection caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae resulting in skin disfigurations and sores all over the body, nerve damage and muscle weakness. It is not highly contagious and spreads through repeated contact with the mucus of the infected person, usually when the person sneezes or coughs. The main symptoms of this disease are numbness in the limbs and pale-coloured lesions in the skin, which are less sensitive to touch and temperature.
    It is diagnosed by a physical examination to look for the visible signs and symptoms. The doctors may also carry out a skin biopsy and a lepromin skin test to determine the type of leprosy. There are several antibiotics available to treat leprosy, such as dapsone, rifampin, clofazamine, minocycline and ofloxacin. The best way to prevent leprosy is to avoid close contact with the infected person.
  • Impetigo: It is a highly contagious superficial skin infection which occurs predominantly in babies and children, but can affect adults too. It is caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. The sores usually appear on the face and the limbs. It starts with tiny blisters and progresses into golden-yellow, grainy crusts.
    Maintaining good personal hygiene and a clean environment is the key to treat and/or prevent impetigo. Over-the-counter antibacterial ointments is not advisable, instead, topical mupirocin ointment which is available only by prescription is highly successful in treating mild forms of impetigo. For severe infections, oral antibiotics may need to be taken.
  • Cellulitis: It appears as a red, swollen area that feels hot and tender and spreads rapidly. It is usually painful and mostly affects the skin on the lower legs. A person is at risk if he/she has diabetes, experienced skin trauma, liver disease, skin disorders like eczema or circulatory disorders. It can be caused by post-surgical infections, foreign objects in the skin and even bone infections.
    Usually, an oral antibiotics regimen for up to three weeks is prescribed to treat cellulitis, depending on the severity of the condition.
  • Boils: Boils may be either bacterial or fungal infections of hair follicles. It may begin as a benign-looking bump and can become hard and painful as the condition worsens, with the release of pus.
    Treatment involves promoting drainage and heeling. Applying warmth through compresses can speed up the rupturing and provide both healing and pain relief. Do not try to open the boil yourself. Consult a doctor if the boil remains unruptured.

Viral Skin Infections:

  • Shingles: It is caused by varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. It is preceded by a tingling sensation on one side of the body or face, followed by red skin rashes that cause pain and burning. Most of the incidences clear up within three weeks. It is caused by physical or emotional trauma, serious illness or medications like steroids. People aged over 60, having diseases like HIV, AIDS, cancer or having undergone chemotherapy or radiation treatment are especially susceptible.
  • Molluscum Contagiosum: It is a chronic infection that causes either single or multiple pearl-like lesions or bumps. It spreads through direct contact with an infected person or a contaminated object. They are generally painless, but induce an itching sensation.Treatment is not always necessary, but single bumps can be removed by scraping or freezing.
  • Chickenpox: It is a very contagious disease caused by varicella-zoster virus. It often occurs in children and is characterized by itchy red blisters all over the body. Some symptoms may include fever, headache, and loss of appetite. The blisters gradually fill up with pus which then starts leaking. The bumps then become scabs and start healing. It spreads through saliva, coughing, sneezing and contact with fluid from blisters.The affected people are usually advised to rest while the condition subsides on its own. Antihistamine medications can help relieve itching. Antiviral drugs do not cure chickenpox but only reduce the intensity of the symptoms, which helps our immune system to heal faster.
  • Hand, foot and mouth disease: It is a highly contagious infection that spreads through direct contact, saliva, respiratory secretions or surfaces contaminated with faeces. The infected person develops sores in the mouth and rashes on the hands and feet. It is a mild condition that usually subsides on its own. Other common symptoms include fever, poor appetite, sore throat, headache, irritability etc. Over-the-counter medications may be given to soothe the rashes and medicated syrups or lozenges can help ease sore throats.

Fungal Infections:

These most likely develop in damp areas of the body such as feet or armpit. Some common fungal infections are:

  • Athlete’s Foot:
    It is a mildly contagious disease that affects the skin on the feet and spreads to toenails and hands. It spreads either through direct contact or with skin particles on towels, shoes and floor. Walking barefoot increases the risk of contracting this condition. The usual symptoms are itching, stinging and burning sensation, dry skin on the soles of the feet, discoloured, thick toenails etc.
    It can be treated with over-the-counter antifungal medications such as miconazole, terbinafine and ciotrimazole.
  • Ringworm:
    It is caused by mold-like fungi and is presented with red patches which spread to other parts of the body. The common symptoms include red, itchy and scaly patches that develop sores and begin to ooze. The outside may be raised and bumpy and the circular patch may feel tender and sore to touch.
    An OTC antifungal cream or lotion can help in treating this disease.
  • Candidiasis:
    It is also known as yeast infection caused by a type of yeast living in mouth, stomach or on the skin. There are different types of candidiasis such as oropharyngeal, genital and vaginal yeast infections. There are various symptoms depending on the type of infection, like, soreness and redness in the mouth and throat, pain while swallowing, itchiness in the vagina, pain and burning sensation while urinating, etc.

    Common brands of OTC medications such as Monistat and Vagistat can help in effectively curing a person of this condition.

  • Fungal Nail Infections:
    It occurs when a fungus infects a fingernail or toenail, or the skin under the nail called the nail bed. People above the age of 65 and those having diabetes, wearing artificial nails, suffering from nail injuries and having a weak immune system are more likely to develop this condition. It appears as a scaling under the nail, white or yellow streaks under the nail, flaking, and loss of the nail.
    OTC medications are not usually reliable. Therefore, oral antifungal medications such as terbinafine, fluconazole etc. may be prescribed.

Most of the incidences of skin infections are easily curable through OTC medications. However, in severe cases, proper medical care must be provided. Maintaining proper hygiene is the key to prevent the onset of skin infections.