First Aid: Skin Infections

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First Aid

Skin abscesses or boils (a collection of pus in the skin) and cellulitis (bacterial infection of the deeper layers of the skin and tissues beneath) are typical childhood skin infections. The usual bacterial culprits in skin infections are strep or staph, and both require medical treatment.

Signs and Symptoms

Of an abscess:

  • area of swelling under the skin
  • starts out small and grows bigger gradually
  • skin over abscess is warm and red
  • painful to the touch
  • may have yellow drainage

Of cellulitis:

  • a red, inflamed area on the skin that is tender to the touch
  • may occur in an area of a scratch or cut
  • redness often spreads rapidly over the skin's surface
  • fever
  • a feeling of general sickness
  • swollen glands nearby

What to Do

Seek Medical Care

If Your Child:

  • has an apparent skin infection that is getting larger
  • feels sick or has fever or chills
  • has red streaks near the infected area

Think Prevention!

  • Wash hands well and often, especially after touching infected areas.
  • Clean cuts and scrapes with soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment, and cover with a bandage.
  • Don't share towels, washcloths, razors, or athletic equipment.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2014

Related Resources

OrganizationCenters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.
OrganizationAmerican Academy of Dermatology Provides up-to-date information on the treatment and management of disorders of the skin, hair, and nails.
OrganizationAmerican Academy of Family Physicians This site, operated by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), provides information on family physicians and health care, a directory of family physicians, and resources on health conditions.

Related Articles

A to Z: Pilonidal Cyst Learn more about skin infections, cysts, and abscesses.
Molluscum Contagiosum Molluscum contagiosum is a common wart-like viral skin infection. For most children, the rash is no big deal and goes away on its own over time.
Pityriasis Rosea This harmless rash often forms a telltale "Christmas tree" pattern on the back that makes it easy to identify.
Paronychia Paronychia is an infection of the skin around a fingernail or toenail. Most of the time, it's not serious and can be treated at home. Learn what causes it, what to do, and how to prevent it.
Cellulitis Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and underlying tissues that can affect any area of the body. It begins in an area of broken skin, like a cut or scratch.
Erythema Multiforme By the looks of the "bulls-eye" marks this rash leaves on the skin, you might think it's cause for concern. But erythema multiforme clears up on its own within a few weeks.
Abscess An abscess is a sign of an infection, usually on the skin. Find out what to do if your child develops one.

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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