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What is Erythrasma?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Erythrasma is a bacterial skin infection which favors moist folds of the skin. The medical term for the folds of the skin found around armpits, the groin, and knees is intertriginous skin, which can be useful to know if you feel like your doctor is speaking in tongues. The infection takes the form of reddish brown raised patches which sometimes itch. If left untreated, the patches will turn brown and scaly, and they have a potential to spread. Although erythrasma looks unsightly, it is relatively easy to treat and is not associated with more serious conditions.

If erythrasma is diagnosed, the patient will be directed to wash the area thoroughly with antibacterial soap on a regular basis. In addition, a topical antibiotic may be prescribed, depending on how serious the condition is. This condition tends to occur more often in people who are overweight, especially diabetics, as they may have ample folds of skin which may not always be thoroughly washed. It is also more frequent in hot climates, which can make intertriginous skin more moist and amenable to bacterial colonization.

There are several conditions which can look similar to erythrasma. It is sometimes confused with impetigo, another bacterial infection of the skin. Impetigo appears most often on the hands and face, however, not in the folds of the skin. Infection with tinea, a type of fungus, is also sometimes mistaken for erythrasma, especially since tinea favors the folds of the skin as well. Because each of these conditions require very different treatments, it is important to get a proper diagnosis.

The easiest way to diagnose erythrasma is to expose the area to ultraviolet light. The light will cause the bacteria causing the infection to fluoresce, resulting in a pink to coral colored glow. Skin scrapings can also be taken and cultured to determine the root cause of the infection. Because of the plethora of similar skin conditions which can be mistaken for erythrasma, it is important to go to a doctor or dermatologist to address skin problems.

Corynebacterium minutissimum is usually the culprit behind this condition. To prevent it, people should wash their bodies carefully. Antibacterial soap does not have to be used constantly, but it can be used periodically to remove potentially harmful bacteria from the surface of the skin. Drying thoroughly after bathing can also greatly help to reduce the risk of infection.

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.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By discographer — On Jun 06, 2013

@fify-- Of course, it's contagious. You should be washing your clothes frequently with hot water. I would avoid wearing the same shirt twice. Towels and bed sheets have to be changed frequently as well.

I think the major cause of erythrasma is humidity, sweat. You need to keep your skin dry. Shower frequently and wear 100% cotton shirts. Cotton absorbs moisture. You can also apply baby powder around those areas to absorb sweat.

By fify — On Jun 05, 2013

I have recurrent erythrasma. It's in the folds of skin under my breasts. The infection was treated but it returned several weeks later. Is erythrasma contagious? I wonder if I got the infection again from my own clothing.

By serenesurface — On Jun 04, 2013

@anon336350-- I don't know any names, but erythrasma is a bacterial infection and bacteria will respond to antibiotics. I don't know if oral antibiotics are ever necessary for erythrasma, I treated mine with an antibiotic cream.

I don't think antibiotics should be overused though. If the bacteria become resistant to the medications, they won't work anymore.

By anon336350 — On May 28, 2013

Please can you tell me the names of the drugs that can be used to treat an erythrasma skin infection?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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