Impetigo (Red Itchy Sore): Causes and Treatment

Impetigo (red itchy sore)
Medically reviewed by Dr. Mehvish Khan


Impetigo is an itchy and sometimes painful infection of the outer layers of the skin. It is widespread in young children. The disease is caused by bacteria and spreads from one to another. For that reason, children with impetigo aren’t allowed to return to school or daycare until they’re no longer contagious – about 24 hours after starting treatment with antibiotics. Without treatment, impetigo can remain infectious for several weeks.

What is impetigo?

Although it can happen to anyone, impetigo is a common bacterial skin infection that primarily affects young children. Streptococcus pyogenes and Staphylococcus aureus, two bacteria that commonly enter the skin through cuts, scrapes, bug bites, or other holes, are the two species that cause it. Due to its high contagiousness, impetigo spreads swiftly when touching infected individuals or objects.

Types of impetigo (bullous and non-bullous)

Impetigo has two forms, both highly contagious and spread quickly by contact with an infected person or object.

Non-bullous impetigo 

Non-bullous impetigo, or impetigo contagiosa, is the most common form of the condition. The germs that cause it, Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes, enter the skin through cuts, scrapes, bug bites, or other holes. Little red lesions that soon develop into blisters, burst, and produce a yellowish-brown crust are how non-bullous impetigo typically begins. The affected area can be itchy and be accompanied by swollen lymph nodes. Non-bullous impetigo can occur anywhere on the body, but it is most common on the face, arms, and legs.

Bullous impetigo

A rarer form of impetigo known as bullous impetigo is brought on by a particular strain of Staphylococcus aureus bacterium that secretes a toxin that results in more pronounced fluid-filled blisters. The blisters may be transparent or yellow and can be several centimetres. After the blisters burst, they leave yellow skin crustings. Bullous impetigo is most common in infants and young children and typically affects the trunk, arms, and legs.

Consult our Doctors if you Suspect you or your Child has Impetigo.

What are Impetigo Causes?

The two microorganisms that cause impetigo are Streptococcus pyogenes and Staphylococcus aureus. Common entry points for these germs into the skin include cuts, scrapes, insect bites, and other holes. Moreover, if contaminated, impetigo can be transferred by touch with a person’s clothes, towels, or other personal things.

In some cases, the bacteria may already be present on the skin but only cause an infection when the skin is broken, such as through a cut or scrape. People with weakened immune systems, such as diabetes or HIV, may be more susceptible to developing impetigo.

Impetigo is more common in warm and humid environments and is more likely to occur in crowded living conditions, such as daycare centers or schools. Impetigo is more common in children between two and five and in contact sports athletes.

What are the Symptoms of Impetigo?

The symptoms of impetigo typically develop within 4-10 days of exposure to the bacteria, and the condition can last for several weeks if left untreated. Depending on the type of illness, impetigo symptoms might vary; however, some typical signs include the following:

Red sores or blisters

Impetigo usually begins as small, red sores or blisters that may be itchy or painful. These sores can appear anywhere on the body but are most commonly found on the face, hands, and feet.

As the blisters burst, fluid or pus may leak, forming a yellowish crust on the skin commonly known as weeping or Oozing sore.


The sores may be accompanied by intense itching, which can cause discomfort and make the condition worse.

Crusty or scaly skin

The crusty or scaly skin that forms after the blisters burst can be unsightly and may make it difficult to move the affected area.

Swollen lymph nodes

In some cases, impetigo can cause the lymph nodes near the infected area to become swollen and tender.

How to Diagnose Impetigo?

It can present as a rash on your toddler’s face, Impetigo on legs or crusty toes. Impetigo can usually be diagnosed based on a visual examination of the affected area. Sometimes, a healthcare provider may also take a sample of the fluid or crust from the sores to test for the presence of bacteria.

During the visual examination, the doctor will look for characteristic symptoms of impetigo, such as red sores, blisters, and crusty skin. They may also ask about the patient’s medical history, recent exposure to someone with impetigo, and any symptoms they are experiencing.

If a sample is taken, it will be analyzed in a laboratory to determine if the bacteria that causes impetigo is present. This can help confirm the diagnosis and guide appropriate treatment.

Impetigo Treatment

As long as impetigo doesn’t spread beyond a small patch of skin, disinfectant solutions or creams are often recommended. But it needs to be clarified whether they work.

Antibiotic creams have proven effective. Use a wooden spatula or disposable gloves to avoid touching the impetigo rash with your bare hands.

Antibiotics that are swallowed (oral antibiotics) are usually only prescribed if a child has impetigo on a large area of the skin or if several parts of their body are affected. Antibiotic tablets are more likely to have side effects than antibiotic creams. For instance, they may cause gastrointestinal (stomach and bowel) problems.

Keeping the child’s fingernails trimmed very short is a good idea, so they can’t scratch themselves as much.

Most cases of impetigo can be successfully treated with antibiotics and good hygiene practices. However, it is essential to follow your doctor’s instructions and complete the entire course of treatment to ensure the infection is fully cleared.

Consult one of our Online Doctors if you are having Symptoms of Red Skin and Itching

General Care and Self-help Measures

In addition to medical treatment, you can take several self-help and general care steps to help manage and prevent the spread of impetigo.

Keep the affected area clean.

Cleaning the damaged region gently involves using warm water and gentle soap. Avoid touching or cleaning the area because doing so could spread the infection. Keeping the affected area clean is essential to prevent the disease from worsening and help it heal faster.

Avoid scratching or picking at the sores.

Scratching or picking at the sores increases the risk of infection and scarring. Even if the sores are irritating or uncomfortable, it is imperative to fight the impulse to scratch or pick at them.

Add cool compresses to the affected area to help soothe any itching or discomfort. This can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain.

Cover the sores

Covering the sores with a clean, dry bandage can help prevent the infection from spreading to other parts of the body or people. Regularly changing the application and disposing of it properly is essential to avoid spreading the disease.

Practice good hygiene

Avoid sharing private objects like towels or razors, and wash your hands frequently, especially after touching the affected region. The danger of reinfection can be decreased, and the spread of infection to others can be stopped with good hygiene habits.

Take antibiotics as prescribed.

If your healthcare provider has prescribed antibiotics, take them exactly as directed and for complete treatment, even if your symptoms improve. This can help ensure the infection is fully cleared and reduce the risk of recurrence.

Stay home

It’s crucial to avoid going to work or school if you or your child has impetigo until the sores have healed or for at least 24 hours after beginning the medication. This will help to stop the infection from spreading to other people. This can lessen the chance of reinfection and help prevent the disease from spreading to other people.

Consult our Online Doctor for the Best Medicine for Impetigo

Medications (topical and oral antibiotics)

Medications are an essential part of the treatment for impetigo, and the two main types of medications used are topical and oral antibiotics.

Topical antibiotics 

These are usually the first-line treatment for mild cases of impetigo. They come in the form of creams, ointments, or gels that are applied directly to the affected area. These antibiotics work by killing the bacteria that cause impetigo. Some common topical antibiotics used to treat impetigo include mupirocin, retapamulin, and fusidic acid. Topical antibiotics are usually applied two to three times a day for about a week.

Oral antibiotics

If the impetigo is more severe or widespread, or if the topical antibiotics are ineffective, the doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics. Oral antibiotics come in the form of pills or capsules taken by mouth. They function by eradicating the microorganisms throughout the body that cause impetigo. Some common oral antibiotics used to treat impetigo include penicillin, erythromycin, and cephalexin. Oral antibiotics are usually taken for seven to ten days.

It’s essential to take antibiotics exactly as prescribed and for the entire course of treatment, even if your symptoms improve. If the infection is not fully cleared, it can come back or lead to complications.

Treatment of complications (cellulitis, glomerulonephritis)

In some cases, impetigo can lead to complications such as cellulitis and glomerulonephritis. If you develop these complications, your doctor may recommend additional treatments to manage them. Still, With proper treatment and management, most people with impetigo can recover fully and avoid complications.


As the impetigo bacteria penetrate the skin more deeply, cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection, may develop. Symptoms of cellulitis include redness, warmth, swelling, and pain in the affected area. Cellulitis is usually treated with oral antibiotics, and if the infection is severe or spreads quickly, hospitalization may be necessary.


It is a kidney condition that can occur when the impetigo bacteria spreads to the kidneys. Symptoms of glomerulonephritis include swelling, high blood pressure, and dark-colored urine. Treatment for glomerulonephritis may consist of medications to manage blood pressure and reduce inflammation and antibiotics to treat the underlying infection.


The sores of impetigo can cause blisters which, even after healing, can leave scars on the skin.

How can I Prevent Impetigo?

You can prevent impetigo from occurring or spreading by following good hygiene practices and avoiding contact with infected individuals. Here are some tips to help prevent impetigo:

Wash your hands frequently.

One of the most significant ways to stop the transmission of infection is to wash your hands with soap and warm water. After using the restroom, before making food, and both before and after touching any wounds.

Avoid close contact with infected individuals.

Avoid close contact with anyone who has impetigo in your home or neighborhood until the sores have healed or until they have received at least 24 hours of antibiotic treatment.

Keep cuts and scrapes clean.

Clean and cover any cuts or scrapes with a sterile bandage to prevent bacteria from entering the wound and causing an infection.

Avoid sharing personal items.

Do not share personal items like towels, razors, or clothing with others, as this can spread the disease.

Practice good hygiene

Take regular baths or showers, wear clean clothing, and avoid touching your face or mouth if you have impetigo on your face.

Disinfect surfaces

Toys, clothing, and bedding should all be cleaned and sterilized in case they come into contact with impetigo bacteria.

Consult our Doctors if you Develop any Complications from Impetigo.

Impetigo vs. Weeping Eczema

Oozing sores can develop as a result of impetigo and weeping eczema. The two states do differ in some crucial ways, though.


The germs Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes produce impetigo, a bacterial skin infection. Typically, it begins as a little red bump on the skin that swiftly develops into a pus- or fluid-filled blister. When the blister eventually bursts, red, rough, and frequently irritating sore results. Impetigo is highly contagious and can be passed from one person to another or by contact with contaminated materials. Impetigo is often treated with topical or oral antibiotics and excellent hygiene habits.

Weeping eczema

On the other hand, this is a type of eczema characterized by oozing or weeping sores on the skin. It is caused by a breakdown of the skin barrier, which allows irritants and allergens to enter the skin and cause inflammation. Various factors, including stress, allergies, and exposure to certain chemicals or substances, can trigger weeping eczema. Treatment for weeping eczema may involve topical corticosteroids to reduce inflammation, itching and good skin care practices like keeping the affected area clean and moisturized.

Impetigo vs. Cold Sore

Common skin disorders resulting in sores or blisters include impetigo and cold sores. Yet, they have diverse symptoms and treatments and are brought on by various infections.


The germs Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes produce impetigo, a bacterial skin infection. Typically, it begins as a little red bump on the skin that swiftly develops into a pus- or fluid-filled blister. When the blister eventually bursts, red, rough, and frequently irritating sore results. Impetigo is highly contagious and can be passed from one person to another or by contact with contaminated materials. Impetigo is often treated with topical or oral antibiotics and excellent hygiene habits.

Cold sores

On the other hand, cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). They typically appear as small, fluid-filled blisters on or around the lips, although they can also occur on other face areas or inside the mouth. Cold sores are contagious and can spread from one person to another or through infected objects. Antiviral drugs to lessen the intensity and length of symptoms and excellent hygiene measures are possible forms of treatment for cold sores.

Can Stress Cause Impetigo in Adults

Stress cannot cause impetigo, but it can increase your chances of getting an infection since stress weakens the immune system. Stress may not directly cause impetigo. It can contribute to developing skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, creating openings in the skin and increasing the risk of bacterial infections like impetigo. Therefore, managing stress levels and practicing good hygiene and skin care is essential to reduce the risk of developing skin infections like impetigo. 

Impact on Daily Life (school, work, social interactions)

Impetigo can impact everyday life in several ways, including


If your child is suffering from impetigo is advised to stay home from school until the infection is treated and healed to prevent the spread of the disease to others. This can result in missed classes and falling behind on schoolwork.


Adults with impetigo may need to take time off work until the infection has cleared up, mainly if their job involves close contact with others.

Social interactions

Impetigo is a contagious condition that quickly spreads through close contact with infected individuals. As a result, people with impetigo may need to avoid certain social situations, such as public gatherings or close contact with friends and family, until the infection has been treated and healed.

Physical discomfort

Impetigo can cause significant discomfort, including itching, pain, and a feeling of burning or stinging on the affected areas of the skin. This can make it difficult to concentrate on daily tasks and activities.

Overall, impetigo can have a disruptive impact on daily life, particularly for children who may miss school and social activities as a result of the infection. 

Consult our Doctors for Impetigo Treatment

FAQs about Impetigo Answered by Your Doctors Online Team

How to get rid of impetigo in 24 hours?

It is important to note that impetigo typically takes several days to clear up with proper treatment, and it is unrealistic to expect a complete resolution within 24 hours. However, prompt treatment can help relieve symptoms and prevent the spread of the infection.

What does impetigo look like?

Impetigo is a bacterial skin infection typically appearing as red, itchy sores or blisters. The appearance of the sores can vary depending on the type of impetigo and the stage of the disease. Early stage of impetigo may include just redness. Here are some common characteristics of impetigo sores:

  • Redness: The affected area may be red and inflamed and feel warm.
  • Blisters: The sores may be small, fluid-filled blisters that easily break and ooze fluid.
  • Crusts: As the fluid from the blisters dries, it may form a yellow or brown crust over the sore.
  • Itching: The affected area may be itchy or tender and cause discomfort or pain.

Impetigo sores are most commonly found on the face, arms, and legs but can occur anywhere on the body. Sometimes, impetigo may be accompanied by fever, swollen lymph nodes, or other symptoms.

How do you get impetigo?

Impetigo is a bacterial skin infection that spreads quickly and is typically brought on by two different types of bacteria: Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes. The bacteria can enter the body through a cut, insect bite, skin injury, or normal, intact skin.

Impetigo is most commonly seen in children, but adults can also get the infection. It is more common in warm, humid weather and crowded or unsanitary conditions. Impetigo can be spread through close contact with an infected person, sharing personal items such as towels or razors, or contacting contaminated surfaces.

Living in close quarters with people, having a compromised immune system, and having other skin disorders like eczema or psoriasis can all increase the chance of acquiring impetigo.

Get Started Today

Talk to online doctors now and get medical advice, online prescriptions, refills, and medical notes within minutes. On-demand healthcare services at your fingertips.

talk to online doctor 24/7 free