What Parents Need to Know About Impetigo

Impetigo is a very common skin infection, and in fact, is the most common skin infection in kids between 2 and 5 years old. Impetigo has also been called infantigo, so you may have heard that word used as well.

What is impetigo and what causes it?

Impetigo is a skin infection caused by bacteria. The name of these bacteria are Staphylococcus aureus (sometimes called just “staph“) and Streptococcus pyogenes (sometimes called just “strep”, which also causes strep throat).

These bacteria often live on our skin and don’t do us any harm. But when the skin barrier gets damaged, like with a cut, scrape, or insect bite – these bacteria may be allowed into the wound, and then cause infection.

Impetigo is contagious, that is, it can be spread to other kids and adults. Anyone of any age can get impetigo. Also, you can have impetigo skin infection multiple times. There are over 3 million cases of impetigo reported per year in the United States.

What does impetigo look like

Impetigo typically appears itchy red sores that fill with fluid. The sores then burst and form a yellow crust. Depending on what type of impetigo is present and who advanced (or early!) it is, it may look a bit different from person to person.

Impetigo can appear anywhere on the skin where there is any type of wound. A common area where you may see impetigo in children is on the nose area, after days of having a runny nose (and lots of nose rubbing)

What can you do to help a child with impetigo?

Impetigo if left untreated will often heal on its own in a few days or weeks. That doesn’t mean that everyone should just wait around for impetigo to go away.

The lesion should be evaluated by your child’s pediatrician to confirm the diagnosis of impetigo, and they may recommend an antibiotic cream to help fight the bacteria. Some children with very extensive lesions may be prescribed oral antibiotics.

The downside of not treating impetigo is that it can more readily spread to other parts of the body, and also infect other people. Impetigo is spread by skin to skin contact, so often you will see families where multiple members are affected with impetigo.

You can also help impetigo heal by

  • Cleaning the affected area with soap and water.
  • Gently remove any crusty scrabs, then cover the sores loosely until they are healed.
  • Always wash your hand very well after having touched an impetigo lesion.
  • Try to keep your child from scratching the lesion.
  • Keep your child’s nails trimmed short, it helps prevent further spreading impetigo by decreasing the space under their nails where they can carry the germs.
  • Do not share towels or face cloths.

Can you treat impetigo with natural remedies?

Multiple natural remedies have been talked about in the treatment of impetigo. A “Dr. Google” search will list tea tree oil, tea effusions, olive oil, garlic oil, coconut oil, manuka honey, etc – for treating impetigo. These compounds are known to have antibacterial effects, but that alone does not mean that they will kill all types of bacteria. So does it work for impetigo?

Well, there is no scientific evidence yet that supports the effectiveness of these treatments. It is being studied but so far results are inconclusive. There is “anecdotal evidence” that these remedies have worked for some people.

Anecdotal evidence means that somewhere someone said it worked, but the effect is not consistently reproducible. These kinds of stories alone are not enough for doctors to confidently recommend these natural treatments before an antibiotic cream. Like I mentioned above, impetigo often resolves on its own – and those stories that talk about garlic oil helping might have just been lesions that given enough time, healed on their own.

Natural remedies are often okay to used alongside prescribed medications, as long as they don’t cause harm. Many of the listed remedies above are natural skin irritants, especially when applied to already raw and sore skin. I would approach this very minimally and try to avoid applying natural concoctions on the wounds.

Can you treat impetigo with over the counter products?

Many people wonder if using over-the-counter (OTC) remedies such as hydrogen peroxide, or bacitracin (one of the ingredients in Neosporin) is good enough to treat impetigo.

While there are people who will assure you that they successfully treated impetigo with one of these, scientific research supporting this claim is not strong enough to confidently make this recommendation. People with these great stories might have luck to experienced self-resolving impetigo and attributed it to the OTC treatment.

When can a child return to school after impetigo?

The timing will probably vary on a case-by-case basis, and your child’s pediatrician will let you know when your child is ready. However, the general guideline is that a child with impetigo may return to school after the first 24 hours of treatment (whether it be topical cream or oral for more severe cases).

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What Parents Need to Know About Impetigo

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