Impetigo is a highly contagious skin disease that can affect anyone, although it is most common among children and dermatitis sufferers. Older adults and people with diabetes or a compromised immune system are also more prone to developing the condition, as are those with skin injuries such as cuts, scrapes or insect bites.
The condition first appears as a small scratch or itchy patch of eczema on seemingly healthy skin. Normally this occurs on your face, especially around the corners of your mouth, nose, and the backs of your ears. A small red, itchy spot then quickly develops into a pus-filled blister. Eventually the top of the blister becomes crusty and weeps while new blisters develop in the same place or spread to other parts of the body.
Two types of bacteria are responsible for causing impetigo Staphylococcus aureus (staph) which is the most common, and Streptococcus pyogenes (strep). Both types of bacteria can live harmlessly on your skin until they enter through a cut or other wound and cause an infection.
Doctors routinely prescribe topical and oral antibiotics for treating impetigo
The first line of defence against impetigo generally involves the use of an antibiotic cream such as fucidin, which helps to control the infection locally. However, topical antibiotics aren’t always effective and bacteria can become resistant to them over time.
If this happens or the infection spreads to another part of your body, your doctor may recommend an oral antibiotic, such as flucloxacillin. These work in the majority of cases but can cause unpleasant side effects, such as joint pain, anaemia, diarrhoea, or skin rash.
How to prevent the disease from spreading to other parts of your body and infecting others
Make sure you take the following precautions to prevent impetigo from spreading:
As obvious as it may sound, avoid touching the infected area this not only prevents the infection from spreading but also minimizes your risk of being left with unsightly scars, which can soon develop if you scratch the irritated area and wash your hands regularly.
Keep your nails short as the bug can get under your fingernails and be passed on to others.
Wash clothing, towels or bed linen every day and don’t share these items with anyone else.
Gently wash the affected area with mild soap and cool boiled water and then cover lightly with clean gauze.
Wear gloves when applying antibiotic ointment and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
5 Natural remedies to overcome impetigo and give your immune system a much-needed boost
Although antibiotics normally provide an effective way of clearing up impetigo, they can weaken your immune system in the process. For this reason, it makes sense to take steps to bolster your body’s defences. There are numerous natural remedies that can help do this and, better still, many help fight the infection in the process. You may find that you need to use a combination of the following for best results:
1. Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis): Researchers have discovered that Goldenseal contains anti-infective chemicals such as berberine, beta-hydrastine, canadine and canadaline. They have been found to be particularly effective against infections caused by staphylococcus and streptococcus which, as already mentioned, are the two main culprits that cause impetigo. The recommended dosage amount for Goldenseal is one 250mg tablet taken three times a day. Goldenseal is also available in cream or liquid form for external use apply directly to the infected area of skin three times a day.
2. Olive oil: The use of olive oil as a mild antiseptic for the skin has been known since biblical times. Recently, Turkish scientists from the Department of Chemical Engineering, Izmir Institute of Technology, revealed that olive oil contains rutin and oleuropein powerful chemicals that are effective against infectious bacteria, including staphylococcus aureus. Apply a few drops of olive oil over and around the infected area, four times a day. Olive oil is best used as a preventative. For example, you should apply olive oil if you are in contact with someone who already has impetigo, especially if you have any type of skin injury as this dramatically increases your risk of catching it.
3. Tea Tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia): After examining past studies, scientists from the Department of Complementary Medicine, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, reported that there is now a great deal of evidence to suggest that tea tree oil is an effective treatment against the staphylococcus bug, which causes impetigo. In addition, the scientists found that ordinary tea appears to offer protection against the infection too. Commenting on the findings they said: Positive results were reported for an ointment containing tea leaf extract in impetigo contagiosa infections. This area seems to merit further study through rigorous clinical trials. Apply two to three drops of tea tree oil to the effected area three times a day.
4. Zinc: Several studies have shown that this mineral plays a key role in improving immunity. In addition, a study has revealed that zinc can reduce the risk of impetigo developing in premature babies. This is an important finding, as these babies have immature immune systems which makes them vulnerable to developing infections like impetigo. The recommended dosage of zinc (as zinc citrate) for adults is 15mg daily.
5. Myrrh (Commiphora mol-mol): Myrrh oil is able to reduce levels of inflammatory chemicals, such as interleukin and tumour necrosis factor, in the blood. This is important, as keeping concentrations of these chemicals to a minimum means that your body stands a far better chance of successfully fighting off infections. Doctors reported a case of a diabetic patient who was treated with a mixture of myrrh and honey in order to control a serious infection caused by staphylococcus aureus (the same bacteria that causes impetigo). The infection cleared up completely following daily application of this mixture. The doctors believe that this was due to the anti-infective properties of myrrh and the soothing, antiseptic effect of the honey. As we’ve reported in past issues, manuka honey in particular is extremely effective for treating serious infections, including MRSA. To benefit from manuka honey, take two to three teaspoonfuls (10-15g) before meals. A few drops of myrrh can be added to water, for external use, to wash the infected area. However, because the strength of the mixture can vary depending on which product you purchase, it is important that you closely follow the manufacturers instructions.
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