Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and tissue just below it. The infection may occur anywhere on the body. However, it is most common on the lower legs. Treatment can help prevent it from spreading to other areas of the body.
Cellulitis is caused by bacteria. The bacteria may normally live on top of the skin or come from other sources. It enters the skin through a cut or injury on the skin surface. Once inside the skin, the bacteria can grow and cause infection.
Things that raise the risk of cellulitis are:
- An injury to the skin such as:
- Skin conditions, such as:
- IV drug use
- Having certain conditions, such as diabetes or obesity
- Blood vessel problems, such as venous insufficiency or peripheral artery disease (PAD)
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Symptoms of cellulitis may be:
- Fever and chills
- Skin that is:
- Red and feels hot
- Painful or tender
- Streaked—redness is spreading
- Fast heartbeat or fast breathing
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may diagnose cellulitis based on how the skin looks. The outer edge of the redness may be marked. This will help to see if the infection spreads.
The doctor may also do blood tests. Fluid from the area may also be tested. This is to find out what bacteria is causing the problem.
The goal is to get rid of the infection and manage pain. Treatment may last 5 to 10 days. Most cellulitis will clear up after 1 to 2 weeks of treatment.
Hospital care may be needed for:
- Severe cellulitis
- Diabetes or a weak immune system
- An infection on the face
It may also be needed if:
- Treatment is not working
- A person cannot stick to their treatment routine
Treatment may be:
- Medicine, such as:
- Antibiotics by mouth or IV—to clear the infection
- Antifungals, by mouth or applied to the skin—for fungal infections
- Pain medicine
- Supportive care, such as:
- Keeping the area raised—to help move fluids out and speed healing
- Protecting the skin—keeping the area clean and bandaged
The risk of cellulitis may be reduced by:
- Keeping skin clean and dry
- Moisturizing dry skin
- Treating skin conditions and other conditions that raise the risk of cellulitis
- Taking precautions to avoid skin injuries
- Cellulitis. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/cellulitis-treatment.
- Cellulitis. DermNet New Zealand website. Available at: https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/cellulitis.
- Cellulitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/cellulitis.
- Cellulitis. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dermatologic-disorders/bacterial-skin-infections/cellulitis.
- Linder KA, Malani PN. Cellulitis. JAMA. 2017;317(20):2142.
- Sullivan T, de Barra E. Diagnosis and management of cellulitis. Clin Med (Lond). 2018;18(2):160-163. .
- April Scott, NP
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