Skin infections are a common and important cause of admission to hospital. Knowing how to treat skin infections earlier and from home is very important. Common types of skin infections include:
Cuts, scratches and grazes
Cuts, scratches and grazes are best treated with good skin hygiene measures, such as cleaning the area with warm water and covering it with a plaster or bandage.
Covering the wound prevents bugs from getting into it (causing an infection). In most cases, cuts, scratches and grazes do not need to be treated with an antiseptic or antibiotic. There is no convincing evidence that the use of antiseptics on minor skin infections has any beneficial action. Most cuts, scratches and grazes will heal by themselves after a few days. See your doctor if you notice any of the following — it could be infected:
- There is pus.
- The area around the cut, scratch or graze is red, painful to touch and swollen, or red lines on the skin spread out from the injured area.
- You experience persisting or significant loss of sensation near the wound or you're having trouble moving any body parts.
- You have a fever and feel unwell.
Read more about cuts, scratches and grazes.
Impetigo (also called school sores) is a very contagious skin infection. This means it easily spreads from one person to another. Impetigo is found generally on your hands and face, especially around your nose and mouth.
Children should see a doctor for assessment and treatment. Careful cleaning of the sores and the use of antiseptic or antibiotic cream may be advised. Sometimes oral antibiotics are prescribed. Children should be kept away from school or day care until the sores are healed, or as advised by your doctor. Read more about impetigo.
Boils and abscesses
Boils and abscesses are tender, red spots, lumps or pustules that form at the bottom of a hair follicle. They are caused by a build up of pus under the skin.
If you have a cut, scratch or any break in the skin barrier, this leaves the skin at risk of infection and can lead to the development of a boil.
If there are multiple white heads, this is called a carbuncle. Large boils can form abscesses and/or cellulitis. Most boils and abscesses can be treated with incision and drainage (a procedure where the pus is released from under the skin). See your doctor if you think you have a boil or abscess.
Read more about boils abscesses.
Cellulitis is a serious infection. When any area of the skin is broken (such as from a sore, cut, insect bite, boil, burn or graze), it can become infected and spread to the flesh under the skin. Cellulitis needs to be treated with antibiotics.
See your doctor immediately if you have symptoms of cellulitis such as your skin getting red, warm and starting to swell, the red area growing, or red lines in your skin spreading out from the centre of the infection. Read more about cellulitis.
Eczema (also called atopic dermatitis) is a condition where patches of skin become dry, inflamed, itchy, red, cracked and rough. It is commonly found behind your knees and on your arms, hands, neck and face. Eczema is not contagious, which means you cannot give eczema to someone else and you cannot get eczema from someone else. Sometimes when the skin is red, weepy and blistered, it may become infected. Antibiotics may be needed if your skin becomes infected. Read more about eczema.
Scabies is a skin infection caused when a tiny insect (called a mite) burrows under the surface of your skin, causing a very itchy rash. Infection is easily spread from person to person through direct skin contact. It is important to treat scabies as it won't go away on its own. Scabies is caught through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person, or through shared bedding or clothing. You need to treat scabies with a special medicated lotion or cream. Everyone who lives in the same household with the infected person needs to be treated. Read more about scabies.
Ringworm is a common type of fungus infection that appears on the trunk of the body, arms, legs, feet, groin or scalp. It is not caused by a worm, but rather by a fungus. It is easily spread among people. The infection usually starts as flat, scaly spots with a raised red border that spread outwards in a circle. Ringworm is often itchy.
It is usually treated with anti-fungal creams sold by your pharmacy.
Read more about ringworm.
Tinea is a condition caused by a fungi that infects the skin. Tinea infections are most common on your feet, particularly between the toes, and around the upper thigh and groin. Common types of tinea infection include:
- tinea pedis – tinea of the foot or between the toes, also known as athlete’s foot
- tinea unguium – tinea that involves one or more toenails or fingernails
- tinea cruris – tinea of the groin or upper thighs, also known as jock itch
- tinea corporis – tinea on other parts of the body or skin, often known as ringworm.
Read more about tinea.
Antibiotics for your skin Choosing Wisely, NZ
Bleach bath instructions Starship Hospital
Preventing recurrent skin infections Healthpoint
Skin infections Medline Plus
Fungal infections of the skin WebMD
Staph infection Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research