Impetigo is a skin infection that is very contagious but not usually serious. It often gets better in 7 to 10 days if you get treatment. Anyone can get it, but it's very common in young children.

Symptoms of impetigo

Impetigo starts with red sores or blisters. They burst and leave crusty, golden-brown patches.

These can:

  • look a bit like cornflakes stuck to your skin
  • get bigger
  • spread to other parts of your body
  • be itchy
  • sometimes be painful
impetigo around a child's nose and mouth
Sores (non-bullous impetigo) or blisters (bullous impetigo) can start anywhere – but usually on exposed areas like your face and hands.
impetigo on a child's stomach
It's also common for blisters to start around your tummy.
red and crusty patch of skin on a child's hand
The sores or blisters burst and form crusty patches.

Treatment of impetigo

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if you or your child:

  • might have impetigo
  • had treatment for impetigo but the symptoms change or get worse
  • had impetigo before and it keeps coming back

Impetigo is very infectious. Check with your GP before you go to them. They may suggest a phone consultation.

A GP will check if it's something more serious, like cellulitis.

If it's impetigo, they can prescribe antibiotic cream to speed up your recovery. They may prescribe antibiotic tablets if it's very bad.

Do not stop using the antibiotic cream or tablets early, even if the impetigo starts to clear up.

If your impetigo keeps coming back

A GP can take a swab from around your nose to check for the bacteria that causes impetigo.

They might prescribe an antiseptic nasal cream. This is to try to clear the bacteria and stop the impetigo coming back.


Impetigo can spread to other parts of your body, or to other people, until it stops being contagious.

Impetigo stops being contagious:

  • 48 hours after you start using the medicine your GP prescribed
  • when the patches dry out and crust over – if you do not get treatment

Things you can do to help stop impetigo spreading or getting worse while it's still contagious:


  • stay away from school or work

  • keep sores, blisters and crusty patches clean and dry

  • cover them with loose clothing or gauze bandages

  • wash your hands

  • wash your flannels, sheets and towels at a high temperature

  • wash or wipe down toys with detergent and warm water if your children have impetigo


  • do not touch or scratch sores, blisters or crusty patches – this also helps stop scarring

  • do not have close contact with children, or people with diabetes or a weakened immune system

  • do not share flannels, sheets or towels

  • do not prepare food for other people

  • do not go to the gym

  • do not play contact sports

How to avoid impetigo

Impetigo usually infects skin that's already damaged.

Avoid infection by:

  • keeping cuts, scratches and insect bites clean by washing with warm water and soap
  • getting treatment for skin conditions, like eczema

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 22 April 2020
Next review due: 22 April 2023

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.