What is cellulitis?
Cellulitis is a skin allergies infection caused by bacteria. The infection develops anywhere the skin has been broken - often from a cut, burn, or an insect bite. The infection spreads from the skin to the underlying tissues. In severe cases, it can spread quickly, within hours or days. Cellulitis is usually not contagious.
What are the causes?
Cellulitis is caused by bacteria, usually Streptococcus pyogenes or Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Cellulitis of the face in children under 3 years of age is typically caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae. Some people are at risk for infection by other types of bacteria that result in cellulitis. At-risk groups include people with impaired immune system and people who handle fish, meat, poultry, or soil without using gloves.
What increases the risk of cellulitis?
There may be an increased risk for cellulitis if there is:
- A cut or injury to the skin, surgical wound, skin infection, burn, or an animal or insect bite
- Skin lesions, such as ulcers, eczema, psoriasis, or a fungal infection
- Certain medical conditions, such as a circulatory disease, oedema, an impaired immune system, diabetes, or peripheral vascular disease
- Impaired lymphatic drainage after surgery, such as a mastectomy
What are the symptoms?
Cellulitis presents with tenderness, pain, swelling, and redness at the site of the infection. Fever and chills are also common. Cellulitis can occur anywhere on the body. In adults, it often occurs on the legs, face, or arms. In children, it commonly develops on the face or around the anus. Facial infection requires immediate medical attention.
What are the complications?
Complications such as bacteraemia (presence of bacteria in the blood) or sepsis (systemic inflammation in response to infection) can develop if the bacteria that causes cellulitis spreads quickly throughout the body. Facial cellulitis infection can spread to the brain (meningitis). Other complications, such as thrombophlebitis or, rarely, gangrene, can also develop. If an older adult has certain medical conditions such as diabetes or peripheral vascular disease, or an impaired immune system, he is at an increased risk for complications. Recurrence of cellulites is another complication.
How is cellulitis treated?
Antibiotics are the main treatment for cellulitis and are usually successful in curing the infection. Antibiotics can be taken either orally or intravenously (IV). If there are certain medical conditions that increase the risk for getting cellulitis, antibiotics can be taken after a skin injury to help prevent the infection.
Preventing a recurrence of cellulites
Cellulitis tends to recur in people with certain medical conditions that can lead to skin breakdown, such as oedema (fluid buildup), fungal or bacterial infections, diabetes, or peripheral vascular disease.
- if there is oedema, support stockings and good skin hygiene may reduce or eliminate recurrence of cellulitis
- if there are frequent fungal infections, regular use of antifungal medications may help reduce the recurrence
- if a person is at a high risk for recurring cellulitis, taking preventive antibiotics may help
What is the home treatment?
Other steps to help recovery and prevent recurrence are:
- take all medicines as prescribed
- take care of the skin. Any measure that prevents injury to the skin will help to prevent cellulitis
- elevate the affected leg or arm to reduce swelling. Apply a sterile saline-soaked dressing to reduce pain
- apply cool compresses to the affected area
- use pain relievers as needed
- use support stockings to prevent fluid build-up
- take steps to treat or prevent fungal infections, such athlete’s foot. If athlete's foot is difficult to treat or recurs, ask the doctor about oral antifungal medications.
- take care of the feet, especially if there is diabetes or other conditions that may increase the risk of infection.
- avoid touching possible sources of infection, such as ill family members and their belongings; raw fish, meat, or poultry; or soil, particularly when there is an area of broken skin.