Although the skin is the body’s first line of defense protecting it from viruses, parasites, bacteria, and fungi, occasionally the skin itself succumbs to infection. There are many potential causes for skin infections, each with its appropriate treatment.
What types of skin infections are common?
There are generally four root causes for skin infections. These are:
- Bacterial: including impetigo, abscesses, cellulitis
- Fungal: including tinea, athlete’s foot, yeast infections
- Parasitic: including scabies, body and head lice
- Viral: including herpes simplex, molluscum, shingles, warts
Symptoms of skin infections may vary widely. For example, cellulitis appears as tender or painful redness and swelling in the skin. Shingles appears as redness and blistering, often with accompanying pain and swelling and usually only on one side of the body. Athlete’s foot and tinea may cause itching, flaking and redness. Successful treatment of any skin infection depends on proper diagnosis.
How are skin infections diagnosed?
Dr. Naga and Dr. Keaney typically start with a thorough physical exam and a review of health history. These often give clues about the likely origins of a skin infection, so the doctor can make decisions about testing and diagnosis.
For fungal infections, for instance, sometimes a specific fungus need not be identified, since a topical or oral preparation may be effective against several similar fungi. Lab testing for fungal infections typically involves fungal cultures, where samples are grown to determine which particular fungus is active. This may take weeks since it depends on the fungus’ rate of growth. In some cases it is a necessary component to diagnosis, while in others it is not needed.
Biopsies are commonly used for skin infection testing. Various biopsy techniques include incisions, excisions, aspiration, punches, and shaves. Once a specimen is taken, thin slices are mounted on slides and examined under a microscope.
An ultraviolet light, called a Wood’s Lamp, causes some skin infections to fluoresce and may be used to aid in the diagnosis of skin infections.
How are skin infections treated?
Depending on the precise diagnosis, skin infections can be treated with oral medications, topical medications, destructive therapies, or incision and drainage. A combination approach is often used.