There are various types of skin problems. Some are caused by short-term illnesses, such as infections, whereas others may be linked to a chronic condition.
- Can cause a range of symptoms
- Many conditions have distinctive signs
- Treatment depends on the cause
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There are several different problems that can affect the skin. For certain conditions, the symptoms are quite distinct and easy for a doctor to diagnose.
However, some skin conditions can cause symptoms which are not all that distinct, and they will sometimes require further investigation by a doctor or specialist to determine the best course of treatment.
What types of skin problems are there?
Acne is the presence of spots on the skin. Most people will develop acne at some point in their lives. It can have a number of causes, but fluctuating hormone levels are often a trigger.
Allergic or immune conditions
Some of the most common problems affecting the skin are related to allergens or irritants. Eczema and contact dermatitis are often the result of a reaction to environmental triggers; for example, if someone works with a particular type of material or substance that initiates an immune response, causing inflammation. Some people with eczema find that specific soaps or washing detergents can also set off their symptoms.
Psoriasis is a chronic, long-term condition that affects the skin. Most people with psoriasis will have symptoms that go into remission and flare up periodically. Flare ups can be triggered by factors like stress, getting an infection, or changes in hormone levels in the body. However, it’s fairly common for people not to know what their triggers are, which can make any outbreaks of psoriasis difficult to avoid.
Bacterial infections like cellulitis and impetigo are distinctive on the skin. They can occur when bacteria gets into the skin through a break or cut, and spreads. In the case of cellulitis, bacteria can travel to the layers of tissue beneath the surface of the skin, whereas impetigo can spread on the surface of the skin, and affect different parts of the body.
Viral infections of the skin include chickenpox, shingles and measles. These types of infections (particularly chickenpox and measles) are more prevalent among children and young people, and are very contagious.
Fungal infections like jock itch and ringworm cause symptoms on the skin. Many different types of fungi and yeast can live on the skin harmlessly in small numbers. It’s when this balance becomes upset however, and one type of fungi becomes more prominent, that infection can occur.
Some skin problems may be caused by a parasite infesting the surface of the skin, or the scalp. Head lice, scabies, bedbugs and fleas are examples, where insects or mites invade the skin and often multiply in number. There are several ways someone can pick up a parasitic infection. It can be from another person they often come into close contact with, a pet, or from shared items such as bedding and towels.
What symptoms do different skin problems cause?
Inflammation is a common skin complaint. It's where skin becomes red and irritated, and is usually a sign of the immune system combating what it sees as a threat (so an infection for instance, or an allergen). People with allergic conditions will often develop a rash or hives, which are raised, red bumps on the skin.
Irritation and a rash are usually present in conditions like eczema and dermatitis. Often these patches of skin become itchy and dry.
The development of ‘plaques’, which are scaly, hardened sections of skin, along with inflammation, are common signs of psoriasis.
Skin infections can cause inflammation, swelling and tenderness. In some cases, a person may also develop pustules or an abscess.
Infestations with parasites usually cause small red marks, where parasites lay eggs in the skin or bite. The pattern of markings can be quite distinctive; some parasites walk along the skin and leave a trail of eggs, whereas others jump from one location to the next and leave a more sporadic trail.
How are skin problems diagnosed?
A doctor will look for visible symptoms first. These are typically a good indicator of what kind of problem is present. They may then ask some questions about when your symptoms appeared, and whether you have any irritation or pain.
Some parasites are identifiable based on their egg-laying or bite patterns. If you’ve developed a rash due to an intolerance to a soap or detergent, or have eczema, a doctor may be able to diagnose this based on your answers to a few questions about your symptoms and their appearance.
Viral infections that cause skin symptoms tend to have quite distinct characteristics, and bacterial infections tend to be fairly simple to determine upon examination. However, in some cases, a clinician may choose to take a sample from an infected area just to check what type of virus, bacteria or fungi is the trigger.
If a doctor suspects that you may have a more complex skin condition like psoriasis, they may need to refer you to a dermatologist for specialist examination.
What treatments are there for skin problems?
It depends on the cause. Some minor irritations caused by a reaction to detergent or soap may go away after you’ve removed the offending agent from your routine (for example, swapped a chemically-dense soap or shampoo for one with a higher percentage of natural ingredients). An emollient cream can also help to soothe dry or cracked skin, and reduce itchiness and irritation.
Minor bacterial skin infections don’t always need treatment if symptoms are only mild; they may clear up on their own. If a bacterial infection does require treatment, antibiotic cream or tablets are normally issued.
Fungal skin infections will normally require prolonged treatment with an antifungal topical cream, but tablets are also available if symptoms don’t respond to this.
Skin problems caused by a virus rarely need treatment, and will pass on their own after a few days with plenty of rest. However, people with more compromised immune systems may benefit from antiviral tablets. In some cases, a person with a severe case of a virus may need to be admitted to hospital to be monitored.
For a patient with psoriasis, a specialist will often come up with a long-term treatment plan. This may include advice on avoiding triggers and corticosteroid creams.
Acne in women can sometimes be successfully treated with the contraceptive pill. For more severe cases of the condition, a doctor may issue antibiotics to clear up a bacterial infection, if they suspect this is the cause.
Talking to a doctor about skin problems online
If you’ve developed skin problems and would like to speak to a doctor online, our video service can help you. Our doctors can provide the advice and treatment you need at a time that’s convenient for you. To book a slot, click below to get started.