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Impetigo can usually be diagnosed simply by looking the affected area. Further tests are not usually necessary, although the doctor may take a swab if the infection is persisting.

The doctor will also check whether it has developed on top of another skin condition, such as eczema or an insect bite.

Further tests for impetigo

Only if the impetigo is particularly widespread, severe or reoccurring, will the doctor usually refer you to a dermatologist for further tests, including if:

  • The impetigo infection is widespread or severe
  • The infection does not clear up with impetigo cream or antibiotic tablets
  • You suffer from recurring episodes

A specialist will be able to determine the cause of the severe or recurring symptoms you have. It may be due to another skin or medical condition and treating this underlying cause will help to stop you getting impetigo in future.

They’ll usually be able to do this by taking a swab of the affected area and sending it off for tests. They may also do this to see if you are a carrier of the bacteria that causes the condition – it can live (colonise) on the inside of your nose. If you do, an antiseptic nasal cream can be prescribed to try to kill the bacteria.

Some chronic conditions, such as HIV, can lead to a person being more susceptible to infections such as impetigo. Discussing any existing conditions and your medical history will help a doctor identify the trigger for your impetigo.

Why getting a diagnosis is important

Impetigo is infectious, so it is essential you get a diagnosis as quickly as you can, to prevent you spreading it to a different part of your body or other people.

If you think you may have impetigo or come into contact with someone with it, you should take extra care with your personal hygiene to minimise the spread of the bacteria. Wash your hands regularly, don’t share towels or other items, and seek treatment as soon as possible.

What happens next?

If our doctor diagnoses impetigo, they will recommend a suitable antibiotic treatment.

This can include:

  • Antibiotic cream (this is the usual treatment)
  • Antibiotic tablets (for more severe cases)

The symptoms of impetigo can improve without treatment in around two to three weeks. However, treatment is recommended to get the infection under control more quickly – usually in around a week. This will also help prevent you spreading it to other people.

With effective antibiotic treatment, impetigo should stop being contagious after 48 hours. Without treatment, it will be contagious for much longer.

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