Ingrown hairs can be painful and itchy, especially in the scrotal region. But scratching can lead to serious bacterial infection. Staphylococcus aureus is the major culprit. Located on the surface of skin or in nasal passages in approximately half of the population, it is usually harmless. When it breaches the skin, however, it can cause nasty infections. Mild infections can be treated with topical antibiotics but more severe cases require oral medications.
Ingrown Hair Definition
Ingrown hairs result when a growing hair shaft fails to penetrate the skin's surface or grows back down into the skin. The medical term for this is folliculitis because of the irritation of the hair follicle or root where the hair originates. This is especially common in regions on which pubic hair grows, because of the hair's thicker and curlier nature, making it more prone to re-entry into the skin.
An ingrown hair becomes irritated, swollen and itchy as the immune system attacks the intruding hair. The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library notes that scratching can cause further complications by transferring bacteria from the hands to the polyp, which is vulnerable to infection.
The Merck Manuals note that the bacteria most commonly responsible for ingrown hair infections is Staphylococcus aureus. Found on the surface of the skin and in nasal passages of approximately 60 percent of the population, Staphylococcus aureus usually does not cause damage. However, when it breaches the skin's surface it can cause nasty infections. In this case, scratching the ingrown hair can open a wound for bacterial entry.
Antibiotics are used to kill the bacterial infection. Cleansers and topical antibiotics usually suffice for the sensitive scrotal area. However, oral antibiotics may be required for more severe infections.
Recently, some strains of Staphylococcus aureus have developed antibiotic resistance. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA, does not respond to penicillin-related drugs, and must instead be treated with non beta-lactam antibiotics such as vancomycin, linezolid or daptomycin. Merck reports that MRSA has been wreaking havoc in the medical community in recent years, and requires much more serious treatment and monitoring. Doctors may take a sample of pus from an ingrown scrotal hair infection to analyze in the laboratory for determining the best course of treatment.
If infected ingrown scrotal hairs are a chronic problem, doctors may try to eradicate Staphylococcus aureus from the patient using antibiotic soap, nasal ointment and oral antibiotics. However, even if successful, the bacteria can easily be passed from person to person through skin contact, making this a difficult solution to maintain.
Prevention- Skin Care
According to MayoClinic.com, a number of skin-care techniques may prevent infection of ingrown hairs. Retinoids prevent skin thickening and promote exfoliation, making it easier for hair to penetrate the surface. Corticosteroids can be used to treat irritation of an ingrown hair, which can cut down on scratching and make it less likely for infection to follow. Certain pubic hair grooming methods, such as shaving, can promote ingrown hairs. Discontinue shaving and turn to alternate hair-removal techniques to avoid ingrown scrotal hairs and possible infections.