Two baths a day keep bacteria at bay

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By Your Health DR GITA MATHAI
  • Published 29.04.13
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Come summer and people start suffering from pimples, prickly heat, carbuncles and heat boils. No matter what the advertisements say, no cream, talc or lotion can keep you “cool” and prevent heat-induced skin infections. For that, you need to maintain basic hygiene. Bathe twice a day, preferably with medicated soap. Add 1 teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate to each bucket of water. It is best to shave off facial hair and the armpit area, which can easily develop an infection because of the sweat build up there. It will not clear until all the hair has been removed. Any medication applied will otherwise stick to the hair and not permeate to the pores. The area should also be washed with soap three times a day.

Do not apply any powder. Contrary to what the advertisements say, prickly heat powder or talc actually encourages skin infections. Powder combines with sweat to block the pores of the skin. The sebum and sweat builds up behind the blocked pore, providing a nutritious medium for bacteria to grow.

If a pimple or furuncle appears, do not pick or press it. Clean the area with medicated soap and apply antibacterial ointment (such as Neosporin or bacitracin) with a cotton bud. Unfortunately, most people are unable to keep their hands off these lesions. They pick and press to remove them or even try to shave the rash off. Medical personnel and beauty parlours also offer cosmetic and “safe” removal of facial blemishes, pimples and acne. There is no such thing.

Bacteria belonging to the Staphylococcus family live on the surface of the skin. Usually, they do not cause any harm. However, if a person’s immunity decreases because of debilitating illness or there is an injury, these bacteria can enter the deeper layers of the skin. The bacteria that do this are not necessarily more virulent mutants of the Staphylococcus family. They are opportunistic, taking advantage of the temporary weakness and breach in the body’s defences.

Medicated soaps such as Neko damage the outer cell wall of the Staphylococcus bacteria, killing them. So it is a good idea to use such a soap regularly. Apply it on the body with a loofah or towel.

The skin of the face is abundantly supplied with blood vessels. These pass through connective tissue and then directly join the veins in the brain. So any time there is a cut on the face, it is relatively easy for bacteria to enter the brain and cause dangerous infections. This is particularly true of a triangular area of the face, which can be demarcated by drawing an imaginary line between the tip of the nose and the angles of the mouth. Even trivial infections in this area can be fatal, earning it the name “dangerous” area.

Unfortunately this area is also very injury prone. It can be easily nicked while shaving. The upper lip is hairy (in both sexes) and so retains sweat and dirt. The pores become easily blocked. Young people are often in the habit of actively picking at facial lesions. Even in the absence of active physical interference, infection can set in.

Initially there may be just a cold feeling. This will soon be followed by high fever. The area may become red, swollen, hard and painful to touch. The eye on the affected side can become puffed up and half shut. These are dangerous signs and a physician needs to be contacted immediately.

Pus accumulating in other parts of the body needs to be drained. In this dangerous area, it needs to be left alone. This is because any interference with the lesion causes the pus to enter the deeper tissues and spread rapidly because of the abundant blood supply. The high content of connective tissue in that area facilitates this spread by holding the veins open. Instead of surgical interference, high doses of antibiotics should be given. Clean the area gently, without pressing down on it.

Self-medication with one or two doses of antibiotics for insignificant skin infections makes the friendly skin bacteria resistant and virulent. Infections will recur frequently, spread to other areas of the body and become non-responsive to treatment. So only take antibiotics under medical supervision and always complete the dose the doctor has prescribed.

Dr Gita Mathai is a paediatrician with a family practice at Vellore. Questions on health issues may be emailed to her at yourhealthgm@yahoo.co.in