Many people come to me with different skin rashes and have the worry of whether or not it is a condition called impetigo. Equally, many people get impetigo and do not recognise it.
Due to its contagious nature, impetigo can get worse very quickly if it is not treated correctly.
Today we will consider all aspects of this skin condition, making it easily identifiable so you know how to stop it in its tracks.
Firstly, I want to make it clear that impetigo always looks worse than it is. It very rarely develops into something serious and very rarely spreads to the lymph nodes or deeper layers of skin, causing another skin condition called cellulites.
If caught and diagnosed early it can normally be treated very quickly and cleared. I find it is usually the unpleasant cosmetic aspect of impetigo that troubles people most.
So, what exactly is impetigo? It’s a highly contagious bacterial infection of the surface layers of the skin and there are two types – bullous and non-bullous.
Bullous is characterised by large, painless, fluid-filled blisters. It is less contagious than the other type.
Non-bullous is characterised by small sores that burst quickly leaving a green-yellow-brown crust. This type is extremely contagious.
Impetigo is most commonly spread when many people are in close quarters, for example at nurseries and army barracks.
It occurs when bacteria enters the skin through a cut or wound, or when skin affected by eczema becomes infected.
Symptoms may not necessarily appear for up to 10 days after being exposed to the bacteria, which is what makes it highly contagious as people may be spreading it without even knowing they have it.
The blisters of bullous impetigo often appear on the top half of the body, on the torso. It rarely appears on the arms and legs. Many blisters may develop and not burst until several days later. If the infection is severe, swollen glands and a fever may develop.
Non-bullous impetigo usually starts with what looks like a cold sore around the nose or mouth. However it is possible for it to occur on other limbs, or other areas of the face.
The cold sore then turns from red to a yellow-brown golden crust. It often feels extremely itchy. Once the crusts dry the remaining red mark will clear without scarring.
It is very important not to scratch the blisters as this could cause the infection to spread to other parts of the face, body or even to other people.
Impetigo is uncomfortable but should not cause you pain. If you are in pain this must be investigated by your GP.
Impetigo will clear up without treatment but it may take up to three weeks.
A quicker remedy includes either antibiotic cream or antibiotic tablets. Both should be prescribed by your GP. Treatment should help the infection to clear up within seven – 10 days.
If after this time it has not cleared up, consult your GP to discuss other approaches to treatment. In severe cases a combination of cream and tablets can be used.
If the area is touched with your fingers make sure you wash them with warm soapy water straight away.
Also, when applying cream it is advisable to use single-use gloves to avoid spreading the infection.
Impetigo stops being contagious 48 hours after treatment is started, once the sores have stopped clustering and crusting.