Stress does not cause impetigo but may weaken the immune system, putting a person at risk of developing this skin condition.

The skin serves as a protective barrier from the external environment. Skin infections, such as impetigo, often happen when breaks or punctures in the skin receive exposure to bacteria.

This article explores the question of whether stress can cause impetigo and other possible triggers of impetigo.

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Impetigo is a highly contagious skin infection affecting the superficial skin layer. It can occur due to one or both group A Streptococcus and Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. It spreads mainly through close contact with a person with the infection or through contact with their personal items.

It commonly affects children between the ages of 2 and 5 years but can occur at any age. The global prevalence of impetigo is 11.2% in children in comparison to 4.9% in adults.

There are two types of impetigo:

  • Nonbullous impetigo: This is the most common type. It begins as clusters of red or discolored itchy sores that typically appear around the mouth and nose that rupture and develop into thick, honey-colored crusts.
  • Bullous impetigo: This type begins as fluid-filled blisters that usually occur on the trunk, between the neck and waist. They enlarge quickly, burst, and become covered with a honey-colored crust.

Learn more about impetigo.

The body’s immune system fights against infections such as impetigo. People with a weakened immune system are at risk of developing the condition, and their bodies may have a harder time fighting it.

Conditions or treatments that may result in weakened immune systems include:

Chronic or long-term stress also suppresses the immune response. This happens by suppressing cytokines, which help defend against conditions that cause tumor growth and infections.

Repetitive, intense stressors over-activate the immune system, causing excessive inflammation. This is responsible for the development of stress-related conditions such as :

Impetigo is highly contagious and spreads easily. Any punctures or breaks in the skin make a person vulnerable to a direct bacterial infection that causes impetigo. These include:

  • cuts
  • insect bites
  • atopic dermatitis or eczema lesions
  • burns
  • varicella, which people know as chickenpox

Secondary impetigo can also occur when a previous skin wound site contracts an infection.

Most people get it from close contact with someone with impetigo, making crowded conditions a common setting where it spreads. These include:

  • gyms
  • dorms
  • military training facilities

It can also spread by sharing personal items with someone who has impetigo. Improper hand, face, and body hygiene can also increase the risk of disease.

While impetigo can occur anytime, it is more common in summer or tropical locations and areas with temperate climates.

Stress has many negative consequences on the skin, including changes in the antimicrobial properties of the skin barrier and delayed wound healing. This altered immunity favors the progression of infections and may affect chronic inflammatory skin diseases. It may worsen existing skin conditions, such as:

  • eczema
  • urticaria, which people call hives
  • psoriasis
  • vitiligo, where growing patches of skin lose their color
  • acne
  • alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder that can lead to unpredictable hair loss
  • rosacea, a chronic inflammatory skin condition that can cause flushing, blushing, and skin irritation

A 2018 study on skin symptoms that occurred due to psychological stress among medical students found that highly stressed students experienced the following skin symptoms:

  • itchy skin
  • hair loss
  • pimple
  • oily, waxy, or flaky scalps

Doctors treat impetigo with antibiotics. They may prescribe topical antibiotics if a person only has a few sores and oral antibiotics if they have more sores around their bodies.

A person with impetigo also needs to clean the affected area with soap and water several times daily. Additionally, they need to wash their hands often and cover them to help ensure that the infection does not spread to other parts of the body.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness recommends the following tips to help reduce stress:

  • Recognize triggers that cause stress and agitation to avoid or cope with them.
  • Learn to prioritize a person’s day-to-day schedule.
  • Practice relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and meditation.
  • Do daily exercises such as biking and walking.
  • Set aside time for themselves.
  • Eat a nutritious, balanced diet.
  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol and substance use.
  • Talk with friends, family, or a support group.

Read more about stress reduction techniques.

The following are questions people frequently ask about impetigo.

What can people mistake for impetigo?

Other skin conditions look similar to impetigo, and people can mistake it for them. These include:

  • eczema
  • scabies
  • contact dermatitis
  • candidiasis
  • herpes simplex
  • varicella-zoster

Is it typical for adults to get impetigo?

Anyone can get impetigo, but it is more common in children between the ages of 2 and 5 years. Adults with health issues or weakened immune systems may also have a higher risk of developing impetigo.

Can a person randomly get impetigo?

A bacterial infection causes impetigo. A person may get it through direct contact with someone with the condition.

Stress does not cause impetigo but can lower the immune system and make a person more vulnerable to infections. It can also worsen existing skin conditions and trigger the onset of specific skin symptoms.

Stress can also negatively affect a person’s overall health, so learning how to manage it is important. Practicing relaxation techniques, getting adequate sleep, and talking with family or friends can help reduce stress.

A person can speak with a healthcare professional about any skin changes.