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How do I Treat a Bacterial Skin Infection?

Nicole Madison
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The manner in which you can treat a bacterial skin infection may depend on the type of infection. Some minor skin infections may be treated at home with topical antibiotic creams, while others may require treatment with prescription-strength antibiotic creams and oral antibiotics. You may do well to see a doctor for a skin infection before you try to treat it on your own. Some skin infections may look fairly minor but develop into a more serious infections quickly; the right treatment may prevent them from worsening.

If you discover a bacterial skin infection at home, you may apply an over-the-counter antibacterial cream as an initial measure. You may also cover it with a bandage that allows for good air circulation, yet keeps the infected area covered to prevent the spread of the bacterial infection. Once you have taken these initial steps, however, you may do well to make an appointment with a doctor to have the infection evaluated. If it appears to be a minor infection and you do not have a fever, you may be able to wait a day or two for an appointment. If you do have a fever, however, or the infected area smells or appears serious, you may need to see a doctor immediately.

The treatment a doctor recommends typically depends on the type of bacterial skin infection you have. For example, if you have cellulitis, a skin infection that typically affects the deeper layers of skin, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics you can take at home. He may also prescribe a prescription-strength topical antibiotic. If you have impetigo, which is marked by blisters that ooze and form crusts, your doctor may prescribe an antibacterial cream that you can apply at home as well. If your case of impetigo is severe, however, your doctor may prefer to treat it with oral antibiotics.

Sometimes bacterial skin infections are serious and require a person to be hospitalized for treatment and monitoring. In some cases, patients are even quarantined because of severe skin infections. For example, a severe case of cellulitis may require you to be hospitalized for treatment with intravenous antibiotics. This can help prevent the infection from affecting other parts of the body. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections, which are resistant to the antibiotics commonly used for skin infections, sometimes requires hospitalization as well, and a highly-contagious individual may be quarantined.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By anon323166 — On Mar 03, 2013

A lot of misleading articles have been written by others to give an explanation of how to treat a skin infection, but most of them are not accurate, nor do they say how to help cure the infections.

When a person has to pay for information to some of these medical sites and they are asking about a serious infection, it is not in their best interests to listen to most of their diagnosis. These doctors took a medical oath to help people and to help cure what their illnesses, and it is sad people think they have to pay high dollars just for a simple explanation or general information. It is ridiculous. I have found that doctors do not really care about patients. They only care about how much money they can rob from the people, and that is a true fact.

By burcidi — On Jan 15, 2012

I had cellulitis once due to an ingrown toenail. The place where the nail had grown into the skin got infected and the infection then spread to the tissues in my feet towards my leg. I didn't realize that anything was going on until my foot and leg started to swell. My doctor put me on antibiotics right away but I didn't respond. He then switched to another kind of antibiotic which thankfully worked.

Ever since I've had cellulitis treatment, I do not use antibiotics on whim. The reason the first type of antibiotic didn't work was probably because the bacteria I had was immune to it. If the infection hadn't responded to the other antibiotics, my doctor said that I would have been in big trouble. He would have probably put me on steroids had that been the case.

By burcinc — On Jan 14, 2012

@MissDaphne-- You are so right. One of my friends had a staph bacterial infection in her leg skin and it was horrible. She got it from her boyfriend who apparently got it from the gym.

She showed it to me once and I couldn't believe it. It looked like an open wound! Her doctor would put her on antibiotics and it appeared to go away. As soon as she stopped the antibiotics though, another one popped up.

It was extremely painful too, there were times she couldn't sit for very long and it hurt while walking too. She went through three or four rounds of antibiotics until it went away completely. It's such a scary infection.

By SteamLouis — On Jan 14, 2012

@MissDaphne-- I understand that a bacterial infection requires doctor care. But how do I know that I have a bacterial infection in the first place? What are the most basic bacterial skin infection symptoms?

My cat scratched my hand the other day and it bled. I washed it with soap and water and applied antibacterial cream on it right away. It looked good for a day or two, but today is the third day and it doesn't appear to have dried up or closed properly. The cut looks a bit grayish in color and appears wet even though it isn't bleeding.

Do you think it's infected? I just don't know how to tell!

By Kat919 — On Jan 13, 2012

@MissDaphne - I agree with you that any time you might have a skin or other bacterial infection, you should see a doctor. The title of the article is actually a little misleading when it asks how do "I" treat a bacterial infection of the skin - because the answer is, *you* don't! Your doctor does!

(The article does say to see your doctor right away or soon, depending on the severity of your symptoms.) A couple of times, I have had very minor infections that got better without treatment, but any time you have redness, inflammation, etc. that is getting worse and not better - call your doctor! (And if you have a fever, get seen *right away* - go to an urgent care center if it's the weekend.)

By MissDaphne — On Jan 13, 2012

*Do not* mess around with a bacterial infection of the skin. Any time you think something could be infected, in fact, see your doctor!

A friend of mine developed a red, inflamed area on her stomach, of all places, during one of the worst years of her life (her mother was dying, she was in a stressful new job - everything at once).

It wasn't just a garden-variety infection - it was MRSA! She might have picked it up at her gym or at work. At any rate, because as the name suggests it's resistance to antibiotics, she had to have surgery on the affected area. Happily, she made a full recovery, and I don't think she even had to be hospitalized.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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