Impetigo isn't usually serious and often clears up without treatment after two to three weeks.

Treatment is often recommended as it can help clear up the infection in around seven to 10 days and reduce the risk of the infection being passed on to others.

If impetigo is confirmed, it can usually be effectively treated with antibiotics.

If the infection is being caused by an underlying skin condition, such as eczema, this may also need to be treated.

Antibiotic cream

For mild cases of impetigo that cover a small area, antibiotic cream is often recommended. This usually needs to be applied three or four times a day for seven days.

Before applying the cream, wash any affected areas of skin with warm, soapy water and try to clean off any crusts that have developed.

To reduce the risk of spreading the infection, it's also important that you wash your hands immediately after applying the cream or, if available, wear latex gloves while applying the cream.

Side effects of antibiotic cream can include:

  • irritation
  • redness
  • itchiness in the area where the cream is applied

If symptoms haven't improved after seven days of starting treatment, speak to your GP about other possible treatment options.

Antibiotic tablets

Antibiotic tablets may be prescribed if the infection is more severe and widespread, or if the symptoms don't improve after using antibiotic cream. These usually need to be taken two to four times a day for seven days.

If a course of oral antibiotics is prescribed for you or your child, it's very important that the course is finished even if the symptoms clear up before you've taken all the tablets. 

Common side effects of oral antibiotics include:

Speak to your GP if your symptoms haven't improved after seven days of treatment with antibiotic tablets.

Further testing and treatment

Further tests are usually only required in cases where the infection is severe or widespread, doesn't respond to treatment, or keeps recurring.

In these circumstances, your GP may refer you to a dermatologist (skin specialist) for further tests or they may take a swab of the affected skin themselves for testing.

This can help to rule out or confirm other skin conditions that may be responsible for your symptoms and can detect whether you carry one of the types of bacteria responsible for the infection inside your nose.

If your doctor thinks you may keep getting impetigo because you naturally have these bacteria inside your nose, they may prescribe you an antiseptic nasal cream to try to clear the bacteria.

Page last reviewed: 27/06/2016

Next review due: 27/06/2019