Skin Infection: Types, Causes and Treatments

Have you ever stopped to consider how important your skin is to your overall health? Often times, the importance of this organ- yes, the skin is the largest organ on the body, is overshadowed by the importance of internal organs, which is understandable, but given that skin is truly your first line of defense against a diverse range of dangers, you need to make time to appreciate it.

Skin infections are extremely common, and comprise a significant proportion of all outpatient visits to a general physician across the world, though they can also be very complicated and only be handled by a specialist dermatologist.

Skin infections can range from those that may only have a cosmetic basis for treatment, to those that can seriously compromise your health if left unchecked. In fact, many persons walk around with some sort of skin infection their entire lives, either because treating it is very difficult, or they couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it.

Could you also have one and just not know it? Read on to possibly find out if you have one, and how to go about effectively dealing with it.

Types of Skin Infections

Skin infections, referring specifically to those that occur as a result of a pathogen, can broadly be grouped into belonging to one of four types. These are:

Fungal Skin Infections

Fungi are by nature considered opportunistic. What this means is that they normally live quietly in the dark recesses on your body (or inside your body), and wait for that moment in time when your natural defense mechanisms may be suppressed.

One such opportunity occurs following the usage of antibiotic medications, which may indiscriminately kill a large number of the good probiotic bacteria residing in your gut, these bacteria also being an important part of your immune system.

At this interval when probiotic bacteria cultures are low, fungi take the opportunity to rapidly replicate and cause widespread infection, in this case considering the skin.

Fungal infections of the skin most commonly occur in areas that retain moisture, either as a result of perspiration, or areas that are covered by fabric for long periods of time being kept damp. It is also important to note that many fungal infections are contagious, and can be spread from person-to-person by scratching and subsequently touching another person

Common areas for fungal infection include the feet, the groin region, armpits, or other folds of skin. Common fungal skin infections include:

Bacterial Skin Infections

Skin infections caused by bacteria typically do require medical attention, in contrast to fungal skin infections, which persons walk around with for years as symptoms may go on and come based on the immune system health and other factors.

Bacterial skin infections usually start off very small – a singular bump or small cluster of boils, which either increase in size or number, sometimes very rapidly. Some types of bacterial skin infections may be effectively managed with topical antibiotic preparations, while others are very serious and may require a hospital stint for treatment with intravenous or oral medication.

A few common bacterial skin infections include:

  • Acne, which occurs as a result of blocked follicles becoming saturated with bacterial overgrowth
  • Leprosy – for the most part eradicated across the world, though isolated cases are still reported
  • Staph infections – can range from minor infection of cuts and bruises to life-threatening flesh eating bacteria
  • Impetigo
  • Abscesses

Viral Skin Infections

Viral skin infections have been a scourge of mankind since the beginning of time, with many of them once acquired, remaining in the hosts for their entire lifetime, intermittently causing symptoms, or other types lying dormant and only using the host as a means for replication.

Luckily, many effective vaccines have been developed to assist with the prevention of these viral skin infections, the most common ones being:

  • Chickenpox – highly contagious infection that causes severe itching and redness for an acute period of time, after which the virus seemingly lies dormant for decades.
  • Shingles – the reincarnation of the chickenpox virus in adults, it is caused by the same virus that caused chickenpox as a child. Not everyone that had chickenpox will go one to also experience shingles, which is characterized by severe nerve pain.
  • Measles
  • Molluscum contagiosum
  • Warts

Parasitic Skin Infections

More correctly referred to as infestations, these parasites primarily use human (or other animal) hosts for nourishment, usually in the form of blood. Some of these parasites may also carry disease, though they typically use the hosts for short-term feeding before moving on (in the case of ticks or fleas).

Common parasitic skin infections include:

  • Scabies
  • Bedbugs
  • Lice
  • Cutaneous larva migrans, or hookworm larvae that migrate to the skin layer and leave clearly visible burrow tracks.

Risk Factors/Causes of Skin Infections

The direct cause of these skin infections very based on the type, and specific pathogen responsible for it.

In general, there are a few similar characteristics across groups of similar infections. These include:

Fungal Infections

Develop frequently when the immune system is suppressed, or after coming into contact with another person who has the infection. Keeping the skin damp for a prolonged period of time also leaves you more likely to develop fungal skin infections.

Viral Skin Infections

Can spread via skin to skin contact, or may become airborne as well. Also more likely to occur in persons with suppressed immune systems.

Bacterial Skin Infections

Usually need an opening to gain access and start infection; such as following a wound on the skin, or even consuming contaminated food (though this is more likely to cause systemic illness).

Parasitic Skin Infections

May be spread from person-to-person, or directly via the environment. These parasites usually lay eggs on or under the skin surface and use the hosts for nourishment.

Treatment of Skin Infections

In like manner, just as how there are different types of infections, so too do the treatment approaches to getting rid of them. In some cases, complete resolution is not possible so achieving control of symptoms is the next best thing.

Fungal Skin Infections

There are a wide range of topical preparations that are extremely effective at treating various fungal skin infections when used correctly. These may include sprays, lotions, creams or dusting powders.

Bacterial Skin Infections

Treatment may involve use of topical antibiotic preparations, or depending on the severity of infection, oral or intravenous antibiotic treatment administered in a hospital.

Parasitic Skin Infections

Use of an oral anti-parasitic medication, coupled with topical treatments are usually enough to effect a total cure. Very rarely, as in the case of cutaneous larva migrans may some extent of surgery be required to cut and remove the parasites that may have migrated to deeper layers of skin.

Viral Skin Infections

The vast majority of viral skin infections are not curable. Treatment usually involves medication that suppresses viral load to a degree that they are deemed undetectable, within accepted limits.

Minor viral skin infections, such as warts, can be temporarily gotten rid of with the use of specialist wart remover products (but they usually regrow).

Supportive Care

  • Antihistamines – either applied topically to skin or consumed orally, helping to diminish the desire to scratch.
  • Corticosteroid creams – very effective anti-inflammatory agents that suppress redness and irritation to a great degree.
  • Cold water – Cold water helps to reduce burning irritation and itching, helping to decrease the likelihood of an infection spreading.

The Final Word

Even though you are likely to develop some sort of skin infection over the course of your life, the majority of times you will be able to experience complete resolution of symptoms. Much of these infections can be prevented altogether with good sanitation and personal hygiene.

Be sure to wash hands often, don’t wear damp clothing for prolonged periods of time, and keep a bottle of sanitizer handy. And above all else, don’t hesitate to contact your physician for professional help if you notice things getting out of hand.


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