Treating impetigo 

Impetigo is not usually serious and usually clears up without treatment after two to three weeks.

But treatment can help clear up the infection more quickly (usually in around seven to 10 days) and can reduce the risk of the infection being passed on to others.

If impetigo is confirmed, it can usually be effectively treated with antibiotics, which may be prescribed in the form of a cream (topical antibiotics) or as tablets (oral antibiotics).

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

Read more about the causes of impetigo.

Antibiotic cream

For mild cases of impetigo that cover a small area, antibiotic cream is often recommended. This will usually need 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 is 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 and itchiness in the area where the cream is applied.

If symptoms have not 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 do not improve after using antibiotic cream. These will 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 is very important that the course is finished even if the symptoms clear up before you have taken all the tablets. 

Common side effects of oral antibiotics include feeling sick, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Speak to your GP if your symptoms have not 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, does not 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 bacteria 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. Read more about preventing impetigo.

Staying away from others

To reduce the risk of spreading impetigo to others, you or your child you stay away from work, school or nursery until either:

  • after 48 hours of treatment starting
  • after the sores have stopped blistering or crusting

Once the crusts have cleared, they may leave a red mark on the skin. However, impetigo is not infectious by this stage and the redness will usually clear up in a few days or weeks.

Page last reviewed: 17/07/2014

Next review due: 17/07/2016