Information for Patients
Your toenails and fingernails protect the tissues of your toes and fingers. They are made up of layers of a hardened protein called keratin, which is also in your hair and skin. The health of your nails can be a clue to your overall health. Healthy nails are usually smooth and consistent in color. Specific types of nail discoloration and changes in growth rate can be signs of lung, heart, kidney, and liver diseases, as well as diabetes and anemia. White spots and vertical ridges are harmless.
Nail problems that sometimes require treatment include
- Bacterial and fungal infections
- Ingrown nails
Keeping your nails clean, dry, and trimmed can help you avoid some problems. Do not remove the cuticle, which can cause infection.
What are skin infections?
Your skin is your body's largest organ. It has many different functions, including covering and protecting your body. It helps keep germs out. But sometimes the germs can cause a skin infection. This often happens when there is a break, cut, or wound on your skin. It can also happen when your immune system is weakened, because of another disease or a medical treatment.
Some skin infections cover a small area on the top of your skin. Other infections can go deep into your skin or spread to a larger area.
What causes skin infections?
Skin infections are caused by different kinds of germs. For example,
- Bacteria cause cellulitis, impetigo, and staphylococcal (staph) infections
- Viruses cause shingles, warts, and herpes simplex
- Fungi cause athlete's foot and yeast infections
- Parasites cause body lice, head lice, and scabies
Who is at risk for skin infections?
You are at a higher risk for a skin infection if you
- Have poor circulation
- Have diabetes
- Are older
- Have an immune system disease, such as HIV/AIDS
- Have a weakened immune system because of chemotherapy or other medicines that suppress your immune system
- Have to stay in one position for a long time, such as if you are sick and have to stay in bed for a long time or you are paralyzed
- Are malnourished
- Have excessive skinfolds, which can happen if you have obesity
What are the symptoms of skin infections?
The symptoms depend on the type of infection. Some symptoms that are common to many skin infections include rashes, swelling, redness, pain, pus, and itching.
How are skin infections diagnosed?
To diagnose a skin infection, health care providers will do a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. You may have lab tests, such as a skin culture. This is a test to identify what type of infection you have, using a sample from your skin. Your provider may take the sample by swabbing or scraping your skin, or removing a small piece of skin (biopsy). Sometimes providers use other tests, such as blood tests.
How are skin infections treated?
The treatment depends on the type of infection and how serious it is. Some infections will go away on their own. When you do need treatment, it may include a cream or lotion to put on the skin. Other possible treatments include medicines and a procedure to drain pus.
Candida is the scientific name for yeast. It is a fungus that lives almost everywhere, including in your body. Usually, your immune system keeps yeast under control. If you are sick or taking antibiotics, it can multiply and cause an infection.
Yeast infections affect different parts of the body in different ways:
- Thrush is a yeast infection that causes white patches in your mouth
- Candida esophagitis is thrush that spreads to your esophagus, the tube that takes food from your mouth to your stomach. It can make it hard or painful to swallow.
- Women can get vaginal yeast infections, causing vaginitis
- Yeast infections of the skin cause itching and rashes
- Yeast infections in your bloodstream can be life-threatening
Antifungal medicines get rid of yeast infections in most people. If you have a weak immune system, treatment might be more difficult.