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Healthgrades Editorial Staff

What are scabs?

Scabs are a common symptom of skin infections, immune system skin disorders, and injury. Scabs result from the healing process, in which new skin grows over damaged skin. They may occur in conditions affecting one area of skin alone, or along with more generalized conditions, such as shingles, chickenpox, or eczema. Only in rare situations are scabs found on a significantly large area on the skin.

Wounds due to viral skin infections, including cold sores (herpes simplex), chickenpox (varicella zoster), or shingles (herpes zoster) are common causes of scabs. Blisters, lacerations, abrasions or burns may also cause scabs as they heal. Impetigo, a bacterial skin infection, can also result in scabs. Depending on the cause, scabs may occur only immediately following an acute injury, or they may be due to recurrent breakouts from a chronic condition, such as psoriasis.

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A rare autoimmune disorder known as pemphigus vulgaris creates skin blisters and causes scabs, and it may be accompanied by blisters that may appear on the entire body including the scalp and the inside of the mouth. Dermatitis artefacta (self-inflicted sores) and other mental disorders associated with self-mutilation behaviors may cause scabs, including repeated picking, rubbing or scratching.

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Rarely are scabs a serious condition. However, any open wound can develop into a serious bacterial infection. Seek prompt medical care (call 911) if you experience scabs along with difficulty breathing, high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), or pus and redness around the scab.

If your scabs are persistent or cause you concern, seek prompt medical care.