Impetigo is a highly contagious skin condition. It usually occurs on the face, neck, and hands of young children and infants. Children who wear diapers also tend to get it around the diaper area.
Impetigo usually goes away within two to three weeks.
Read on to learn more about this condition and how to treat it.
Impetigo is caused by skin infection with one of two types of bacteria — Streptococcus pyogenes and Staphylococcus aureus.
An impetigo infection can occur in a few different ways, such as from:
- skin-to-skin contact with a person who has impetigo
- touching things a person with impetigo has had contact with, such as towels, bedding, or toys
- injury to the skin
- insect bites
- animal bites
Impetigo symptoms can be uncomfortable. Though the symptoms vary slightly from type to type of impetigo, they are similar and can include:
- red sores that pop easily and leave a yellow crust
- fluid-filled blisters
- itchy rash
- skin lesions
- swollen lymph nodes
There are several different types of impetigo. The symptoms and causes are what set each type apart from the others.
This type is also called nonbullous impetigo, and it’s the most common form of impetigo in children. It’s very contagious. This type of impetigo usually begins with red sores around the nose and mouth.
These blisters burst, leaving a weeping, red rash that becomes crusted. The rash may be itchy but isn’t painful. Swollen lymph nodes (bean-shaped glands that help your body fight infection) may also occur with impetigo contagiosa.
This type of impetigo is most common in children under age two. Blisters usually occur first on their torso, arms, and legs. These blisters may initially appear clear and then turn cloudy.
Blisters caused by bullous impetigo tend to last longer than blisters caused by other types of impetigo. The areas around the blisters may be red and itchy.
This is the most serious form of impetigo because it affects the second layer of the skin, rather than just the top layer.
Blisters tend to be painful and may turn into aggravated, open sores, or ulcers. Swollen lymph nodes and scars may also occur.
Who gets it
Certain individuals are more likely than others to develop impetigo. Risk factors include:
- being two to six years of age
- regularly attending a day care center or school
- having irritated skin caused by other conditions, such as dermatitis (itchy inflammation of the skin, sometimes caused by allergic reactions)
- poor hygiene
- warm weather
- being in a crowded environment where bacteria can spread easily
- participating in activities that involve skin-to-skin contact
- having diabetes
- having a compromised immune system
Do adults get it?
Yes, impetigo can occur in adults, although it does so more rarely than in children.
In adults, it usually follows another skin condition or an infection.
Your doctor will examine your sores and ask about any recent injuries to your skin. Most cases of impetigo can be diagnosed through a physical exam. However, your doctor may wish to take a culture to determine the type of bacteria that is causing your impetigo.
Taking a culture involves brushing a swab over an affected area. This swab is then sent to a lab to be tested for bacteria. The information from this test can help your doctor decide whether you need antibiotics, as well as what type of antibiotics to prescribe.
Treatment for impetigo depends on the severity of your symptoms, as well as the type of bacteria causing the impetigo. If your impetigo is severe, your doctor may prescribe treatment with antibiotics.
Your doctor may prescribe a topical antibiotic cream to apply directly to your skin. It’s important to clean your skin before applying the antibiotic cream. This helps the cream penetrate the sores.
Your doctor may also prescribe oral antibiotics. These come in liquid form for children and pill form for adults.
If you have a mild case of impetigo, your doctor may recommend simple hygiene methods you can follow at home. These steps can help your skin heal and prevent impetigo from spreading.
- Clean the affected area several times each day, using either water or an antibacterial wash. It’s important not to scrub the area while washing it, as this can further irritate your skin.
- After washing, pat your skin dry and apply an antibacterial or over-the-counter antibiotic ointment, according to your doctor’s recommendation.
- If you have many scabs on your skin, you can soak the area to help remove some of the scabbing and promote healing.
- Soak the affected areas in soapy water or a 1:32 solution of vinegar and water (1 ounce of vinegar for every 32 ounces of water).
- Try to avoid picking at or touching the areas affected by impetigo.
- You can apply a nonstick dressing to help reduce the spread of impetigo.
- Always wash your hands thoroughly after touching areas of your skin affected by impetigo.
Good hygiene can help you prevent impetigo. These methods include:
- washing your hands often
- bathing or showering regularly
- cleaning and covering any injuries to your skin
If you have impetigo, there are several things you should due to prevent it from spreading to other areas of your body, as well as to other individuals. These include:
- using antibacterial soap to wash your hands
- using a clean towel or fresh paper towel to dry your body or hands
- washing linens and clothes in hot water
- cleaning surface areas in your home with antibacterial products
- keeping your fingernails short
- avoiding schools and child care centers while the infection is contagious
- not sharing personal hygiene items