Cellulitis is a common and sometimes become serious bacterial skin infection. It may at first appear as a red, swollen area that feels warm and soft to the touch. Redness and swelling can spread quickly.
It often affects the skin of the lower legs, although the infection can occur anywhere on a person’s body or face.
Cellulitis usually occurs on the lower legs, but can occur on the surface of the face, hands, and skin. It can also affect the tissues below.
The infection of cellulitis can spread to your lymph nodes and bloodstream. This is when cracks, grazing, or breakage in your skin allow bacteria to enter.
If you do not treat cellulitis, it can become life-threatening. Seek medical attention immediately if symptoms appear.
The main bacteria responsible for cellulitis are Streptococcus:
- Staphylococcus (“Staph”), the same bacteria that can cause impetigo and other diseases.
- Methicillin resistant staph aureus (MRSA) can also cause cellulitis.
- Occasionally, other bacteria (eg, Haemophilus influenzae, Pneumococcus and Clostridium species) can cause cellulitis.
What are the different types of cellulitis?
Different types of cellulitis occur depending on where the infection occurs. Some types include:
- Periorbital cellulitis: develops around the eyes
- Facial cellulitis: develops around the eyes, nose and cheeks
- Perianal cellulitis: develops around the anus.
Although it can occur in people of any age, it is most common in middle-aged and elderly people. It is not contagious.
Cellulitis can occur anywhere on the body, including hands and feet. Adult people develop cellulitis in the lower leg, while children develop it on the face or neck.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Possible signs and symptoms, which usually occur on one side of the body, include:
- Red skin
- Swollen, tight, shiny skin
- Pain and tenderness in the affected area
- Feeling of warmth in the affected area
- Red spots
- Skin thinning
More severe cellulitis symptoms include:
- The vibration or shaking
- Muscle aches
- Feeling ill
- Warm skin
Such symptoms may mean that cellulitis is spreading:
- Red lines
See your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms.
What are the risk factors of cellulitis?
Several factors increase the risk of cellulitis, including:
- Cut, scraper or other skin injury
- Weak immune system
- Skin conditions that cause skin cracks, such as eczema and athlete’s foot
- IV drug use
- History of cellulitis
- Swelling of your arms or legs (lymphedema)
Is it contagious?
Cellulitis usually does not spread from one person to another. It is still possible to catch if you have an open cut on the skin that touches the skin of an infected person.
If you have a skin condition such as eczema or athlete’s foot, you can catch cellulitis. Bacteria can cause cracks in your skin that cause these conditions.
A weak immune system also increases your risk of catching cellulitis as it can also protect you from infection.
If you catch cellulitis, it can be dangerous if you do not get treatment. That is why it is important to tell your doctor
In rare cases, serious complications may arise. they include:
- Permanent inflammation
- Blood transfusions and sepsis
- Infection in other areas
Without treatment, the person may develop permanent inflammation in the affected area.
Blood transfusions and sepsis
This life-threatening condition arises from bacteria entering the bloodstream, and requires rapid treatment.
Following are the symptoms of sepsis:
- rapid heartbeat,
- rapid breathing,
- low blood pressure,
- dizziness on standing,
- decreased urine flow,
- skin that is sweaty,
- pale and cold.
Infection in other areas
In very rare cases, the bacteria that cause cellulitis infect other parts of the body, including muscles, bones, or heart valves. When this happens, the person needs immediate treatment.
In most cases, effective treatment can prevent complications.
Early treatment with antibiotics is usually successful. Most people receive treatment at home, but some are required to receive it in the hospital.
You may suggested by a doctor, one or more of the following treatments:
- Rest the area.
- Elevate the area to help reduce swelling and relieve discomfort.
- Use an over-the-counter painkiller like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) to reduce pain, as well as keep your fever down.
If infection is not too bad, treatment of cellulitis involves taking antibiotics by mouth for 5 to 14 days.
Cellulitis should go away within 7 to 10 days after taking antibiotics. If your infection is severe due to a chronic condition or weakened immune system, you may need treatment for a longer period of time.
If you have a hospital you may need to be treated with intravenous (IV) antibiotics:
- The infection is serious.
- You have other medical problems.
- You are too young or too old.
- Cellulitis covers large areas, is on your hands, or close to body parts like your eyes.
- The infection worsens even after taking antibiotics for 2 to 3 days.
The following are some examples of antibiotics that have been used to treat cellulitis:
- Amoxicillin and clavulanate (Augmentin)
- Ampicillin and Sulfactam (Unsin)
- Piperacillin and tazobactam (Zosyn)
- Cephalexin (Keflex)
- Cefuroxime (Ceftin, Zinacef)
- Ceftriaxone (Rocephin)
- Ceftazidime (Fortaz, Tazicef)
- Erythromycin (Erythrocin, E.E.S., Ery-Tab, EryPed)
- Azithromycin (Zithromax, Zmax)
- Imipenem and cilastatin (Primaxin)
- Ciprofloxacin (Cipro)
- Levofloxacin (Levaquin)
In all cases, physicians choose a treatment based on several factors, including the location and extent of the infection, the type of bacteria causing the infection, and the patient’s overall health status.
Even if your symptoms improve within a few days, take all antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. This will ensure that all bacteria are gone.
Contact your doctor if:
- You will not feel better within 3 days of starting antibiotics
- Your symptoms get worse
- You develop a fever
Diagnosis for cellulitis
Your doctor will be able to diagnose cellulitis by looking at your skin. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may want to monitor the affected area for a few days so that redness or swelling spreads(1).
They can also take a swab or biopsy to find out what kind of bacteria are present. In some cases, your doctor may suggest blood tests.
Laboratory tests can help detect other possible causes, as other conditions may look like cellulitis.
However, this can be challenging, as the presence of different types of bacteria on the skin can lead to inaccurate results.
A physical examination can be:
- Skin inflammation
- Redness and heat of the affected area
- swollen glands
Cellulitis requires immediate medical treatment – it will not respond to home remedies.
But there are some things that you can do at home for relief from pain and other symptoms.
Home remedies include:
- Drink plenty of water
- The affected area is elevated to help reduce swelling and pain.
- Stirring of the affected body regularly to prevent stiffness
- Taking painkillers, such as ibuprofen
- Do not wear compression stockings until the infection is corrected
You may also try natural remedies that have antibacterial properties, such as thyme and cypress oil. However, there is not enough scientific evidence to show that any plant-based treatment can cure cellulitis.
Surgery for cellulitis
Antibiotics usually clear the infection in most people. If you have an abscess, it may have to be drained by surgery.
For surgery, you first receive medication to numb the area. The surgeon then makes a small cut in the abscess and allows the pus to drain out.
The surgeon then covers the wound with a dressing so that it can heal. You may have a small scar later.
Prevention for cellulitis
A person may not always prevent cellulitis from developing, but there are some ways to reduce the risk.
- Treat cuts and grazing: Keep any cuts, bites, gravels, or wounds – including those from recent surgery – clean to reduce the risk of infection.
- Avoid scratching: If an insect, for example, has itching, ask the pharmacist about reducing this feeling. When scratching is unavoidable, keeping the nails clean and short can help prevent infection.
- Take Skin Care: Moisturizers can prevent dry skin from breaking out, but they won’t help if an infection is already present.
- Protect skin: Wear gloves and long sleeves while gardening and if there is a possibility of grazing the skin, avoid wearing shorts. Covering can also help prevent insect bites.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity may increase the risk of developing cellulitis.
- Avoid smoking and limit alcohol use: They may also increase the risk.
- Use antibiotic ointment: If there is a break in your skin, clean it immediately and apply antibiotic ointment. Cover your wound with a bandage. Change the strip daily to one crust.
If you have poor circulation or a condition that increases the risk of cellulitis, take these precautions:
- Keep your skin moist to prevent breakage.
- Immediately treat conditions that cause skin cracks like athlete’s foot.
- Wear protective equipment while you work or play sports.
- Inspect your feet daily for signs of infection or injury.
Your symptoms may worsen within the first day or two. They should start improving within 1 to 3 days of starting taking antibiotics.
Eliminate the full dose as advised by your doctor, even if you feel better. This will ensure that all bacteria are gone.
During your recovery, keep the wound clean. Follow your doctor’s recommendations to wash and cover the affected area of the skin.