This page has been reviewed by a medical professional.
Reviewed by Dr. Phil Mitchell, MD, MS
Flashback to Biology 101: What is the body’s largest organ? If you guessed right, then give me some skin. Your skin protects you from exposure to germs and bacteria that could otherwise cause serious harm to internal organs. While skin is a super barrier against most irritants, like any organ, it’s still susceptible to infection.
Skin and soft tissue infections can affect anyone, but some individuals are at higher risk of contraction. Dermatologists and medical professionals have observed that skin infections are more likely to affect adults over the age of 65. Why? As the body ages, it becomes more susceptible to infection. Age-related risk factors can include immune dysfunctions related to comorbidities, thinning of the skin, and other influences that weaken the body’s defenses. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common skin infections found in seniors, their symptoms, and how you can detect them.
Why Are Seniors at Greater Risk?
Skin infections aren’t fun and can affect different people in different ways. For example, changes to aging skin can make infections difficult to detect in the elderly. These changes to the skin and differences in reactions put seniors at higher risk for skin infections. Some of these skin changes include:
- Rough, dry, or cracked skin
- Transparent, thin skin
- Immune deficiencies due to medications or an underlying comorbidity
- Loose skin and skin folds
- Benign growths
- Poor blood circulation
Common Skin Infections
Due to differences in the condition of the skin and body, seniors have to be more cautious about infections. Some common skin infections that affect the elderly include:
- Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). This is a dangerous type of staph bacteria that is resistant to certain antibiotics. Capable of occurring anywhere on the body, MRSA usually appears as a red, swollen, painful, warm, and pus-filled bump.
- Fungal infections. Fungal infections in the elderly are often found on the feet and nails. Look for green, yellowed, and discolored skin that is painful to the touch.
- Shingles (herpes zoster). If a person recovers from chickenpox in their youth, the virus (varicella-zoster virus) can reappear later in life—causing shingles. This is a painful, itchy rash that occurs in a single stripe around the right or left side of the body.
- Pressure sores. Also known as bed sores, decubitus ulcers, or pressure ulcers, these sores are often the result of staying in one position for too long. Seniors who are restricted to wheelchairs and beds or rely on walking aids are at higher risk of pressure sores. You can typically find them in boney areas of the body—ankles, back, elbows, heels, and hips.
- Cellulitis. This is a bacterial infection that can penetrate through all layers of the skin if not treated immediately. It can appear anywhere, but often develops on the legs. Symptoms of cellulitis include red, swollen, warm, and tender skin.
- Scabies. This type of skin infection is caused by the human itch mite. These microscopic mites burrow into the upper layer of skin, causing intense itching and a pimple-like skin rash.
Sourcing the Itch
As people age, the body changes and ailments can become difficult to detect. The same is true of identifying skin infections. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), popular symptoms of infection—such as irritated, swollen, and red skin—could look and feel completely different for adults over the age of 65, those with comorbid conditions, and people with an altered immune status. These irregular symptoms may make skin infections difficult to detect, but not impossible. Here are some signs that can help you determine whether or not you have a skin infection:
- Hot incision site
- Red, puffy skin around the irritation
- Sores or blisters
If you are at risk of skin infections, there are ways you can take caution. Some prevention methods advised by the Department of Medicine and Infectious Disease include:
- Following a healthy diet. A balanced diet full of leafy greens, fruits, and veggies can ensure your body has the necessary vitamins and minerals it needs to promote a healthy immune system. Seniors in particular should stick to a well-rounded diet to ensure they are replenishing any lost nutrients due to age.
- Regularly exercising. This promotes healthy circulation throughout the body, which carries nutrients to the organs. From walking around the block to following a simple stretch routine, exercising three to five times a week will get you moving.
- Receiving advised immunization. Most skin infections are treatable, and some can even be prevented with a vaccination. Consult with your primary physician yearly to keep up with vaccinations and regular checkups.
- Paying careful attention to personal hygiene. Washing your hands is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of skin infections. You should wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water; if these are not available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer.
- Keeping abrasions, cuts, and scrapes clean. If you cut yourself, make sure to wash it thoroughly with soap and water before protecting it with a bandage.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Don’t make a rash decision on your own. If you believe that you or a loved one has a skin infection and are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms, then seek professional medical attention. Since the environment of an elderly individual can also influence exposure to infections, long-term care facilities and hospitals could pose a greater risk. Seeking at-home medical attention is a great way to avoid exposure to these environments; DispatchHealth is here to help.
At DispatchHealth, we offer in-home treatment for a wide range of skin infections, so you and your loved ones can quickly receive medical attention without leaving the comfort of your home. What’s more, we take most major medical insurance carriers—including Medicare and Medicaid—and offer an affordable flat rate for uninsured patients. To request our on-demand care, simply call us, download our app, or request care on our website. Within a few hours, one of our medical teams will arrive at your doorstep.
DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.
Sources referenced in this article: