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Bacterial skin infections are very common and can range in severity from mildly inconvenient to life-threatening.
If caught early, bacterial skin infections are easily treated. However the longer a skin infection is left untreated, the higher the likelihood of potentially serious complications developing.
The Cadogan Clinic’s expert dermatologists will be able to diagnose your bacterial skin infection and treat the skin infection before it has a chance to spread and worsen.
There are a number of common bacterial skin infections, some of which you may already have heard of. Here we will look at the most common types of bacterial skin infections and how you can recognise them.
Cellulitis is a bacterial infection that affects the dermis and the subcutaneous tissue, the two deepest layers of the skin. The skin will become hot, swollen and painful and sometimes you may also see the appearance of blisters. You may also have swollen and painful glands.
Cellulitis occurs when bacteria finds its way into skin that has been broken, for example, by a cut, insect bite, eczema or athlete’s foot. It can affect any part of the body, including the hands, feet, legs and eyes. If left untreated, the infection can spread to other parts of the body, such as the blood, bones or muscles, which may have fatal consequences. Some people are at a higher risk of cellulitis, including those who have poor circulation, a weakened immune system, have lymphoedema, have a surgical wound, diabetics and those who find it difficult to move around or are bed bound. If you have had cellulitis before, you are also at a higher risk of contracting it again.
Impetigo is a highly contagious bacterial skin infection, but fortunately it is not usually serious and is easy to treat.
Impetigo starts with red sores or blisters which burst to leave crusty, golden-brown patches. These may be itchy and sometimes painful. Impetigo can start anywhere on the body, but most commonly on exposed skin, such as on the arms and face. It can also spread to other parts of the body.
Impetigo usually infects skin that's already damaged, for example, eczema that has been scratched. Impetigo can easily spread to other people. It stops being contagious 48 hours after you start using prescribed medicine or when the patches dry out and crust over.
Anyone can get impetigo, but it is particularly common among young children.
Erysipelas is a superficial bacterial infection that affects the upper layers of the skin. This is in contrast to cellulitis which affects the deeper tissues. However both these infections can overlap, so it is not always possible to make a definite diagnosis between the two.
The most common part of the body to be affected by erysipelas is the legs and face, but any area of skin can be affected. It presents in a similar way to cellulitis, with the skin becoming red, swollen and possible blisters developing.
Just like cellulitis, it is important that erysipelas is treated promptly. If untreated, the infection could spread and cause serious complications such as sepsis (blood poisoning) or meningitis following facial erysipelas. If you have had erysipelas, you are at an increased risk of developing it again at the same site. Just like cellulitis, erysipelas cannot be passed to another person.
This is a common infection of the hair follicles, often caused by ingrown hair, fungus or the follicle becoming blocked by creams or other products applied to the skin. Bacterial folliculitis presents as small, itchy, white, pus-filled bumps.
Often this type of infection heals on its own, but in severe cases it may lead to hair loss.
More commonly known as ‘hot tub folliculitis’, this type of bacterial skin infection is caused by pseudomonas bacteria which is commonly found, as the name suggests, in hot tubs and heated pools where the chlorine and pH levels are not appropriately regulated. With this type of skin infection, the symptoms appear a day or two after exposure to the bacteria. It presents as rash of red, round, itchy bumps, usually on the chest or groin.
It is more common in people with acne or dermatitis and in children, as a child’s skin is thinner than an adult’s.
Boils and carbuncles
A boil, or furuncle to give it its medical name, is a hard, painful, pus-filled lump and can appear anywhere on the body. They often go away on their own, but if you keep getting them then you should seek medical advice. People were certain medical conditions, for example HIV or diabetes, are more prone to boils. A group of boils clustered together is known as a carbuncle. These are less common and are more usually found in middle-aged men.
An abscess is a painful pus-filled lump that appears underneath the surface of the skin and can pop up anywhere on the body. If you have an abscess you may also be suffering from other signs of infection, such as localised pain, chills and a high temperature.
An abscess occurs when the immune system sends white blood cells to fight infection caused by bacteria entering the body. As the white blood cells attack the bacteria, some nearby tissue in the affected area dies. This results in a void that fills with pus, forming an abscess.
Skin abscesses most commonly occur on the hands, feet, underarms, trunk, buttocks and genitals. People with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, an inflammatory condition or a weakened immune system, for example due to HIV or chemotherapy treatment, are more prone to abscesses, although they can happen to anyone.
There are several different causes of erythema multiforme, including mycoplasma bacteria, a type of bacteria that sometimes causes chest infections.
The main symptom is a red rash that starts on the hands or feet, spreading to the limbs, upper body and face. The rash starts as small red spots that become raised patches measuring several centimetres. A person with this particular skin infection will also often have a ‘bulls-eye’ rash, characterised by a dark red centre surrounded by pale pink and dark colour rings. The rash may result in mild itching or discomfort but fortunately the rash fades after two or four weeks. Sometimes the patches merge together, forming painful large red areas. Other symptoms may include a headache, temperature, aching joints, photosensitivity, swollen crusty lips, raw sores inside the mouth, sore red eyes, sores on the genitals and just feeling generally unwell.
Most people with erythema multiforme make a full recovery within a few weeks, but complications can include sepsis, skin damage, eye damage or organ damage. Erythema multitforme may also progress into cellulitis if left untreated.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA, is a bacterial infection that is resistant to a number of antibiotics, hence it is often referred to as a ‘superbug’.
MRSA lives harmlessly in the nose, armpits, groin or buttocks of around 1 in 30 people. Virtually all of the people carrying MRSA will be unaware of its presence. Carrying it on the skin will not make you ill and it will go away on its own within hours, days, weeks or months. However it can cause an infection if it gets deeper into the body. Healthy people are generally not at risk of an MRSA infection, but people who are staying in hospital are at a heightened risk.
If MRSA gets into your skin, you may experience redness, swelling, pain and pus and the infection site may also feel hot to touch. If the infection gets further into the body, it can also cause aches, chills, a high temperature, dizziness and confusion.
It can be serious, but despite its reputation as a superbug, MRSA can be treated.
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We successfully treat hundreds of bacterial skin infections each year. Our team of ten highly experienced specialist dermatologists have been handpicked to form one of the best independent dermatology units in the country
Our skin specialists have the highest levels of training and qualifications
We work with major bodies and organisations to ensure standards are maintained. These include The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD), Royal College of Surgeons (RCS), Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the General Medical Council (GMC)
Our purpose-built dermatology clinic is conveniently located off Sloane Square, Chelsea
Treatment for a bacterial skin infection depends on the type and the severity of the infection.
Bacterial infections are usually treated with antibiotics. Depending on the type of infection, this may be a topical antibiotic, which is applied directly to the skin, or an oral antibiotic, in tablet or liquid form. Antibiotics work by killing bacteria or slowing down bacterial growth and stopping it from spreading.
With cellulitis, if the infection is mild and is only affecting a small area of the skin, it can be treated with a week-long course of antibiotics. The symptoms may worsen within the first 48 hours, but by day 2 or 3, you should be feeling better. You should expect a full recovery within seven to 10 days.
Impetigo treatment usually involves a prescription of antibiotic cream to apply directly to the infection site, although tablets may be required if you have a particularly bad case of impetigo. If the impetigo keeps returning, then sometimes an antiseptic nasal cream may be prescribed to clear the bacteria and prevent the infection from coming back.
When you are prescribed a course of antibiotics, it is vital that you follow the instructions issued by your dermatologist. You should always complete a course of antibiotics, even if you are feeling well. If you don’t complete the course, you run the risk of the symptoms returning and further treatment may be needed.
You will meet with one of our highly trained dermatologists at the Cadogan Clinic on Sloane Street, Chelsea for an in-person assessment of your skin.
Your consultant will discuss the following with you at this consultation:
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Cadogan Clinic. A strong tradition of innovation
Founded in 2004 by world renown dermatologist Dr Susan Mayou, we now work with over 100 leading consultants and successfully treat over 20,000 patients each year. We have been winning industry awards since inception.Get in touch
We have invited a selection of the country's very best consultants to join us at the Cadogan Clinic so that you can be sure that whatever the nature of your treatment, you will be seeing one of the top practitioners in the country.
Dr. Andreea Anton
Dr. Meena Arunachalam
Dr Aveen Connolly
Dr. Tamara W Griffiths
Dr. Mia Jing Gao
Dr. Wisam Alwan
Dr Maham Khan
Dr Soudeh Mashayekhi
Dr. Hayley Leeman
Dr. Susan Mayou
Dr. Sophie Momen
Dr. Amélie Seghers
Dr Kristina Semkova
Dr. Nisith Sheth
Dr Thomas Tull
The Cadogan Clinic is based at 120 Sloane Street in Chelsea, just off Sloane Square and the Kings Road.
We are accessible by all major bus routes that pass through Sloane Square and Sloane Street, as well as Sloane Square tube station.
We are just a 5 minute walk northwards up Sloane Street once you have arrived at Sloane Square.
Local pay parking is available just around the corner from the Clinic on Cadogan Gate, Cadogan Square and Cadogan Gardens. Our local residential parking zone is the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.
Address: 120 Sloane Street, Chelsea, London, SW1X 9BW
We believe in the delivery of excellent outcomes and results, and exceptional levels of service. Our outcomes are natural and long-lasting, and we remain the premier choice for cosmetic surgery treatments in the UK.
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