Normal Skin Bacteria
Skin is the body’s primary barrier against a variety of problems. One of the most important functions of skin is protection from bacteria. Bacteria and other microorganisms that cause disease are ubiquitous in the environment, but although the skin is colonized with bacteria, these pathogens usually don’t cause problems unless there is a break in the barrier or a problem with your immune system. In fact, normal skin bacteria, known as the skin microbiota, create a balanced environment and host specialized immune cells that help your body fight disease-causing microbes.
Several studies have demonstrated the importance of skin bacteria to the immune system. Changes in the balance of bacteria on the skin may influence your likelihood of acquiring an inflammatory skin disorder. The presence of normal skin bacteria may also prevent dangerous organisms from colonizing your skin by secreting chemicals or by competing for nutrition. When you have a cut or break in the skin, however, these bacteria may invade the tissues underneath the skin or enter the blood stream to cause infection.
Cellulitis is a very common bacterial infection usually caused by Streptococcus or Staphylococcus, common skin bacteria. It occurs when bacteria enter a break in the skin and spread throughout the skin and soft tissues underneath the skin surface. Bacteria can invade an ulceration or a surgical wound, in addition to spreading through an entrance in an abrasion or cut. Some people have cellulitis that develops in an area of chronic leg swelling. Diabetics are particularly at risk, as are people with any condition that suppresses the immune system. Your skin will appear red and you may experience swelling, with warmth and tenderness over the area of infection. If the infection spreads, you may have fever and chills or swollen lymph nodes. Cellulitis is not a contagious skin infection. It’s treated with oral antibiotics or intravenous antibiotics, depending upon the severity and the state of your immune system. It’s important to see a doctor if you think you may have cellulitis, because serious complications, including sepsis, may develop without treatment.
A boil is an abscess in the skin that typically begins as an infection of a hair follicle or a sebaceous (oil-producing) gland in the skin. Initially, the skin in the infected area becomes red and a tender lump will develop. Eventually, pus forms from collected bacteria, white blood cells, and protein. The lump beneath the skin becomes tender and forms a white head in the center. This may drain spontaneously, but it is frequently necessary to have a doctor pierce the boil for drainage in order to treat the infection.
Impetigo is a very contagious bacterial infection of the skin that may occur anywhere on the body. It typically appears in exposed areas, beginning as tiny blisters that are arranged in plaques the size of coins. Children frequently get impetigo infections around the mouth and nose. As the blisters break, the red, moist skin underneath can be seen. Impetigo is characterized by formation of a golden crust that spreads at the edges of the infected area. If the bacteria invade the deeper layers of skin, you may develop small bumps that are filled with pus, leading to formation of a dark, thick crust. This form of impetigo is known as ecthyma. It may be itchy, but it spreads with scratching. If impetigo is not treated, it can become severe and may cause permanent discoloration or scarring. A serious complication of impetigo is severe kidney disease that can lead to kidney failure.
Bacterial Skin Infections Can Be Serious
If you have developed redness, tenderness, or pus in an area associated with a cut, puncture wound, surgical incision, or in an area with poor blood flow, it’s important to see your doctor before complications develop. Call our office today for an appointment at one of our convenient locations in Encino, Glendale, or Beverly Hills. Skin infections should be treated appropriately early in their course to prevent a host of potential problems.