Impetigo symptoms

By Anna H. Chacon, MD, Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology Jan 23, 2024 • 4 min

Impetigo is a bacterial skin infection that occurs more commonly in young children. While most cases don’t cause serious health issues, impetigo can trigger a variety of symptoms. It’s helpful to be able to recognize these symptoms in the event your child has an infection.

What is impetigo?

Impetigo (also called pyoderma) is an infection typically caused by one of two types of bacteria, either Staphylococcus aureus or group A Streptococcus. While it’s most prevalent in young children, impetigo can affect younger and older adults as well, and it may occur more often in people with chronic dermatological conditions, like atopic dermatitis, scabies or eczema. Any break in the skin, including from insect bites or an injury, may also increase your risk of contracting impetigo.

Where does impetigo occur on the body?

The face is one of the most common places for an impetigo infection to occur. It can affect your ear, eyes, nose, lips or scalp. You may also contract impetigo on your arms or legs.

Bullous impetigo, a less common type of impetigo, most often occurs on the trunk of the body.

Both types of bacterial skin rashes can spread from one part of the body to another. They’re also very contagious from person to person, spreading through direct contact with someone who has impetigo.

Early symptoms of common impetigo

In the early stages of impetigo, single pink spots around 2 to
4 mm in diameter can rapidly evolve into short-lived, clear fluid or pus-filled blisters and sores on the face or in the nose.

Late symptoms of common impetigo

In the late stages of impetigo, lesions on the top of the skin break open and develop a yellow scab. These sores may rapidly spread to surrounding skin. It’s important to wash your hands and anything you touch in order to avoid spread.

Symptoms of bullous impetigo

A less common type of impetigo that usually occurs in infants, bullous impetigo sometimes affects children as well. Early symptoms of bullous impetigo include small blisters that grow in size.

In late stages, these blisters become flaccid and transparent until they rupture. The blisters don’t thicken or crust over. They adhere to the skin around the edges but not the center, with minimal redness surrounding the blisters.

Other symptoms of impetigo

Mild inflammation and enlargement of the lymph nodes, which may feel tender to the touch, may also occur with impetigo. Other symptoms may include diarrhea and weakness.

Complications of impetigo

Although very rare, complications of impetigo include additional infections and poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis, a rare kidney disease.

How long do impetigo symptoms last?

Common impetigo will usually resolve in two weeks without scarring if it’s left untreated, but bullous impetigo may take longer. Impetigo is usually benign and will typically go away on its own, but treatment helps it heal faster and reduces the risk of complications.

Impetigo mostly affects children but can also affect adults. While impetigo may produce bothersome symptoms, it rarely causes serious complications. But like any infection, if left untreated, impetigo can worsen or develop into a more serious skin and soft tissue infection. If you suspect you or your child has impetigo, see a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Clinically reviewed and updated by Julie McDaniel, MSN, RN, CRNI January 2024.

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