While there are few absolutes in this world, one is common throughout every society in history: nobody likes being sick. In fact, it seems the more severe the illness, the worse the healing process becomes. One of the most common afflictions the world over is getting a signs of infection. It happens when foreign disease-causing bacteria or virus enter your body and start wreaking havoc.
However, it can be difficult to tell whether you have an infection or some other type of disease, as symptoms can be very similar. Additionally, there are different varieties of infections you could be suffering from. This guide attempts to clear up several misconceptions about infections, describe the different kinds, and then ultimately list out the common signs of infection.
Of course, if you’re unsure about the type of symptoms you’re feeling, you should always check with a doctor or other medical professional. This article attempts merely to serve as a guide to help those individuals who think they may have an infection.
What Is an Infection?
An infection occurs when an organism’s body tissues are invaded by disease-causing agents. The agents, often bacteria or viruses, tend to multiply in the body and then produce toxic chemicals that harm the host. Furthermore, the infecting organisms begin to utilize the host’s resources. In turn, the host’s ability to function normally goes awry. This aberration in the host’s normal functioning manifests itself as an illness that is often referred to as an infectious disease.
When infections and infectious diseases occur, they may appear on the body in different ways. Some of these manifestations may include severe wounds, infected appendages, gangrene, sepsis, or even death. The good news is that there are many specific medications that doctors use to cure infections, such as antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, and many more. But the types of medications health professionals use depend on what type of infection the patient has.
Types of Infections
This article is primarily concerned with general infections, the name given to the broad category of infections that is actually made up of two types: systemic and local. Before getting into the symptoms of general infections, it’s important to discuss the difference between the two types, because while some symptoms are present in both the majority of symptoms are unique to one or the other. Understanding what makes the illnesses similar and different is essential when looking at the common signs of infection.
As its name suggests, this type of infection affects an individual’s entire system. Instead of being concentrated in a single area, the organism infects the host’s bloodstream, which enables the infection to spread throughout the body. Systemic infections are often caused by bacterial or viral toxins like the common cold, the flu, strep throat, mononucleosis, and many more.
The bacteria spread from one person to another through surface contact, and then enter the body through different orifices such as the mouth, eyes, nose, or ears. For example, an infected person could cough into their fist and shake your hand. If you then rub your eye after touching their hand, the bacteria could invade your body through your eye. Once it enters the host, the infection can take a ride along the blood stream to spread throughout the body. Airborne diseases work the same way, because you breathe in the bacteria which then enters the system, first through the lungs and then into your blood.
Unlike systemic infections, local infections are limited to a single location. Instead of entering the blood stream and engendering full-body symptoms, local infections are confined to the outside of the body. The most common examples of a local skin infection are an infected area such as a cut, a wound, a splinter in a finger, a hangnail, or others surface infections. If you’re in the process of recovering from either an injury or a surgery, be vigilant and look for potential local infections in your wound.
Pre-existing conditions can greatly affect the likelihood of incurring a local infection, including medications, diabetes, psychological factors, and poor wound hygiene. Even by taking all necessary medical precautions, sometimes microorganisms and other bacteria can still find their way into your wound and begin to cause problems. These new bacteria can cause local infections at the injury site, and should they get into the bloodstream, can eventually spread to your entire body and become systemic.
List of Common Signs Of Infection
By reading this far, you know what general infections are and how the two variants, systemic and local, operate. But what are some signs of infection? How might different infections manifest themselves in your body? Here are some common symptoms of infections explained in great detail, including the type of infection they are most commonly associated with. If you notice any of the following symptoms, seek treatment from a doctor or medical professional as soon as possible.
The only symptom on this list that occurs with both local and systemic infections, fever is a classic indicator that your body is under duress. With a fever, you may feel hot to the touch, can experience headaches, and might have a decreased appetite. You may suffer from a low or a high fever when sick; it just depends on how severe your infection is. A low fever of around 100 degrees Fahrenheit or below is common if you’ve just had surgery.
If it increases to a high fever of 101 degrees or more, however, this could indicate you have a wound infection. The high temperature is the body’s reaction and defense mechanism against the foreign invader as your body attempts to get hot enough to kill off the virus. While unpleasant, a fever can be a good sign that your body is functioning normally and preparing to fight off invading diseases.
Most systemic infections result in chills throughout your body, sometimes at the same time as you’re feeling the effects of a fever. Chills are the term used for feeling cold while also shivering. Often people oscillate between feeling too hot and too cold, which is a classic symptom produced by an infection. When the infection is in full effect, you can experience chills and cold sweats even if you’re under heavy layers of blankets, clothes, or heating pads.
Chills paired with a fever are a common symptom of a systemic infection like the flu and are a common response from your body. The chills are forcing your muscles to contract and relax rapidly in an effort to create heat. The contractions can cause your heat to rise high enough to induce a fever, which can help your body fight off whatever infection that resides within.
Particular to systemic infections, aches often emanate out from your forehead and back. Some infections may be so severe that you can experience full-body aches, with a dull pain spreading throughout your trunk and limbs. The reason for the aches is twofold. First, when the infection appears, your body fights back by releasing natural chemicals to aid your white blood cells, giving them the strength needed to fight the infection.
However, the same chemicals that help your white blood cells often cause your muscles to feel achy and painful. The second reason is that when sick, your body desperately needs water. If you’re not drinking enough water, your body can become dehydrated, and your muscles ache because of the dehydration.
If you feel overall weakness and fatigue in your body, this could be an indicator of systemic infection. Your body is tired from fighting off the infection, and like you, needs rest to re energize itself. If the infection has been present for several days or even a week, it’s unlikely that you’ve had the energy to exercise, which can leave your body equally worn out and tired. Other symptoms of the infection, like pain, nausea, or vomiting, can make it difficult to sleep, causing your body to grow and feel even weaker.
An upset stomach, the urge to vomit, and general stomach discomfort all can occur with a systemic infection. You may find yourself particularly triggered by certain smells, which can cause your stomach to start doing back flips. However, nausea is merely the urge to vomit, and your infection may never actually lead to vomiting.
In some senses, pure nausea can be worse than vomiting because it never provides the same kind of relief. Taking pain medications to curb other symptoms of infection can also cause nausea, especially if you take them on an empty stomach.
A major systemic infection symptom, vomiting can occur with feelings of nausea or without. You may find yourself vomiting immediately after eating regular food, or after having eaten nothing. The infection is busy pumping out infectious toxins, and your body is confused, sick, and hurt. One way to attempt to get rid of the infection is by forcing the contents of your stomach out in hopes that the infection’s cause will be forced out as well. Like a fever, vomiting is actually a sign your body is working well, despite the discomfort you may feel.
Many infectious diseases can cause diarrhea in their victims. Diarrhea, the frequent passing of soft, watery stools, can cause major discomfort, especially when paired with its associated cramps and gas. Diarrhea causes fluid to pass through the body before it’s been absorbed by your intestines. Because diarrhea both causes dehydration and is caused by dehydration, drinking enough water when sick with an infectious disease is extremely important.
Rotavirus, norovirus, and the common flu are the biggest causes of diarrhea in the infection world. Additionally, diarrhea can also be caused by what’s commonly known as “food poisoning,” though it’s actually a bacterial infection spread through improperly cooked food.
Dehydration is one of the most common symptoms of systemic infections. As your body attempts to flush out toxins through vomiting or diarrhea, it accidentally pushes out too much water. Your body needs water for millions of reasons, the most important of which during an infection is to create more cells to fight off the illness.
One of the biggest problems with dehydration is that it can cause many of the other symptoms on this list, including diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, coughing, and aches.
Begin increasing your water intake to combat some of the dehydration’s more negative attributes as soon as you begin to notice that some of the infection symptoms on this list match your own.
Several types of infectious diseases can cause coughing, including viral upper respiratory infections, the common cold, or sinus infections. When your body locates a foreign organism in the ear, nose, or throat, it commands those membranes to begin producing more mucus in an attempt to fight off the infection.
When mucus drips down the back of your throat, it can cause a thick and drippy, wet cough. Additionally, because respiratory infections are located in the lungs, and sinus infections are located in your sinus cavity, the irritation can affect your ability to breathe and also lead to coughing. Finally, the dehydration associated with infections can dry out your throat, causing a dry and raspy cough.
If you feel tired, fatigued, and not in the mood to perform your normal activities, there’s a good chance you have feelings of malaise. Malaise is a common sign of a local infection. Malaise can appear in many different ways, but you may first notice you feel a lack of energy in your daily routines and are sleeping more than normal.
Many people confuse malaise with the overall weariness one feels after having surgery, which can be problematic as many local infections happen after surgery. The difference, however, is stark. Post-surgery fatigue tends to improve gradually, with each day being a bit better than the last. Malaise-induced infections tend to be much more unpredictable, causing individuals to be full of energy one day, exhausted the next, and somewhere in the middle the day after.
When wounds are subject to bacteria, they can quickly begin to fester as a localized infection. If the wound is the result of surgery, it’s normal for the injury to discharge clear or off-yellow fluid. However, if your post-surgery incision or non-surgery related injury is green, cloudy, or smells bad, there’s a high probability the wound is infected. There are many healthy ways to treat these wounds and remove the drainage, especially by using absorbent gauze or dressings. Be sure to contact a health professional for treatment specific to your injury.
Redness and Swelling
In the area around a wound or injury, redness is normal and common. Over time, the redness should dissipate as the body heals the wound. That being said, if the wound’s redness persists long after it should or begins exhibiting lymphangitis, radiating red streaks, these can be indicators that the wound has become infected.
The same can be said for swelling. A little swelling at the start of the healing process is fine but should decrease over time. If you notice redness and swelling long after the wound should have healed, alert your health professional because there’s a high possibility you have a localized infection in your wound.
In a cut, injury, or surgical incision, pain is common and expected. It’s a laceration in your skin, after all. After taking steps to treat the wound, the pain should subside as your body heals itself. While initially helpful, pain medications should be used less as time goes on.
However, if you continue experiencing pain or notice that your pain is becoming more intense, there’s a good chance a localized infection is forming at the wound. Let your experienced health professional or doctor know of increased discomfort as soon as possible, so they can prevent the pain and infection from increasing further.
Heat at Site
If your wound feels hot to the touch, you could be at risk for a localized infection. Your body sends blood cells to fight the infection at your wound, and when they all gather in the blood vessels near the injury, the cells actually stick together.
With the blood cells attracting each other and amassing in such numbers, the blood vessels begin to dilate which can make the wound itself feel warm or hot. If you notice that the high temperatures aren’t decreasing, the infection could have the potential to worsen or spread elsewhere.
If several of these symptoms match ones you experience, you should contact a doctor or medical professional as soon as possible. Infections can become serious very quickly, and the faster you seek medical attention, the better off you’ll be. Plus, the sooner you have an official medical diagnosis, the faster you can begin taking medicine, taking other steps to alleviate the symptoms of the infection, and eliminating the infection itself.
Hopefully, this list of common signs of infection has been helpful in giving you a rough idea of what types of infections the symptoms you’re experiencing could indicate. Of course, always check with your medical professional before you do anything related to your health.