What is impetigo?

Impetigo is a bacterial skin infection characterized by sores which can spread quickly. Anyone can develop impetigo, although it is most common in babies and young children.

The skin sores can appear anywhere on the body, but children tend to get them on their face and sometimes on their arms or legs.

Children with impetigo may be unable to resist scratching the affected area, causing the infection to spread across the surrounding skin and other areas of the body the child might touch. Untreated sores may cause scarring and skin discoloration.

What causes impetigo?

Most impetigo is caused by exposure to staphylococcus or streptococcus bacteria.  The bacteria usually enters the skin through an open cut or sore, which explains why children and wrestlers are commonly affected.  Impetigo can also develop when children scratch eczema or other skin rashes.  The infected sores first develop as small blisters that may pop. Once opened, the sore grows a light brown crust that spreads around the edges. Impetigo is highly contagious and can spread quickly, but is very treatable.

How dermatologists diagnose impetigo

Your dermatologist will diagnose impetigo by visually examining the distinctive sores and blisters caused by the bacteria. Lab tests, such as sampling the crust or fluid from active lesions, are sometimes done to help guide antibiotic treatment.  This may be necessary because some strains of the bacteria causing impetigo have developed a resistance to specific antibiotics.

How dermatologists treat impetigo

Impetigo is a curable skin condition. Early diagnosis and treatment will reduce the risk of spreading and scarring from the bacteria.

As a first step in treating impetigo, your dermatologist will prescribe a topical antibiotic ointment that is applied to the sores. Your dermatologist may advise softening the sores by soaking in warm water or using a warm compress to loosen the crust, allowing the medication to absorb into the skin. For more severe cases of impetigo, your dermatologist may prescribe oral antibiotics.

Impetigo is very contagious. Infected patients should avoid close contact with others, keep the active areas covered with bandages or gauze, and frequently wash their hands to help reduce spread to themselves or others.

If you are concerned about impetigo, click here to schedule an appointment with our board-certified dermatologists or walk into Walk-in Dermatology at your convenience for immediate evaluation.