Being exposed to the external environment and other “insults,” our skin is particularly vulnerable to many kinds of infections. Infections often cause unsightly changes on the skin, and can hinder one’s day-to-day activities and also cause social stigma.
Common skin infections are caused by bacteria [boils], fungus [tinea, candidiasis etc.,] or viruses [warts, herpes etc.,].
Skin infections almost always have certain underlying or predisposing factors. A compromised skin barrier often provides access to microbes to get into your skin.
Cracks in the skin are also a major concern. They can occur owing to extreme dryness, injuries, or other skin diseases.
The use of harsh soaps can likewise deplete the oil content of the skin and render it dry. Scrubbing the skin excessively while bathing, scratching etc., can also cause abrasions on the skin.
People who are prone to allergies have reduced local immunity. This makes the skin vulnerable. On the other hand, drugs such as steroids, and illnesses like diabetes, can increase the probability of infection. Being overweight, including excessive sweating, poor hygiene, poor nutrition etc., can also predispose us to infections.
Contrary to claims, the use of anti-bacterial soaps can destroy the normal skin flora and allow microbes, like Streptococci, to cause skin infections.
Infections of the skin may be localised to a small area, or extended to involve large areas. It is important to identify skin infections, promptly. Early and effective treatment can often cure skin infections – including problems that tend to stay put otherwise for too long.
Bacterial infections present as reddish bumps; they are sometimes filled with pus. Common sites include our lower extremities – especially, legs. In children, it’s usually the face that is often affected.
Bacterial infections can spread to other areas of the body by contact; this may sometimes be associated with fever. Doctors often recommend the use of anti-bacterial creams, or oral antibiotics, directed against specific bacteria.
Boils occur over hairy areas and may be precipitated by shaving, waxing and tight clothing. Repeated boils over the beard area can cause scarring and permanent loss of hair.
Fungal infections are of three types. They characteristically affect certain parts of the body. Tinea, commonly known as ringworm, is seen as a red, ring-like lesion over body folds like the thighs, below the breasts, arm pits etc., It is often associated with intense itching. This is best treated by a dermatologist, or an alternative health therapist, with specific drugs for a specific duration.
Pityriasis versicolour is another common fungal infection. This is seen as multiple, tiny white patches over the neck, chest, back and face. The infection is usually precipitated by excessive sweating. This very common infection is caused by the fungus, Malazessia furfur. The infection can disconcertingly recur, again and again; fortunately, it is not contagious.
Candidiasis is a fungal infection commonly found between the toes, over the fingers, arm pits etc., It has a reddish tinge. It envelops moist areas and presents sometimes with intolerable itching. It is also commonly seen in the new-born in the neck region. Among housewives, it is generally present between the fingers and toes; in men, between the toes. In obese individuals and diabetics, the infection is commonly seen between the thighs and other folds. Keeping the area dry helps to prevent this problem. Anti-fungal lotions and creams, or pills, are often recommended for preventative and curative therapy.
Warts are benign growths caused by a virus. They are seen as brown-black growths with a rough surface. Warts often occur over the hands, feet, and face. They tend to spread to other areas of the skin through contact.
While some alternative therapies can help you get rid of warts, the most recommended form of conventional treatment is extraction. Warts may also be removed by electrocautery [application of a needle heated by an electric current to destroy the wart], chemical cautery, or cryosurgery [application of extreme cold to demolish warts].
Contagiosa molluscum, or small, flesh or red coloured, smooth-domed papules, are often seen as pearly growths, in children, and adults, whose immune system is compromised, or weak.
Herpes simplex virus infections are caused by viruses HSV-I and HSV-II, with the latter being sexually transmitted. It occurs in and around the mouth and genitals. It includes primary and recurrent infections. Most of us would have suffered a primary infection of HSV-I sometime during our lifetime, without even knowing about it. Recurrent infections occur following fever, stress, dental extraction, or cosmetic procedures on the face. Treatment with anti-viral agents when initiated as early as possible is most useful and effective.
Things to Do
- All skin infections are treatable and curable. Recurrence is, of course, likely and sometimes inevitable
- Prevention involves maintenance of good hygiene and integrity of the skin, proper nutrition, and addressing the underlying cause, if any
- Dryness of the skin can be prevented by avoiding harsh soaps, and through the liberal use of moisturisers. Scrubbing should be avoided
- Nails should be pruned and kept clean, to prevent injuries and infection on scratching
- Any injury to the skin should be immediately attended to, with proper anti-bacterial creams and dressings
- Infants and the elderly, including diabetics, the obese, and individuals suffering from major organ diseases, should take special care of their skin.