Dermatologists and Skin Care

Cellulitis

Written by Dr. K Sneha and medically reviewed by Yeshwanth Kumar

 

Contents


Cellulitis Overview

Cellulitis is a potentially serious bacterial infection of the skin, which includes the subcutaneous tissue, fat, and the soft tissue layer. It first appears as an area which is hot to touch and is red and swollen. Cellulitis can occur anywhere in the body, but usually, it affects the skin of the lower legs and can be painful. It can spread to the deeper layers of the skin, lymph nodes, and blood rapidly and can be fatal.

Cellulitis

Types of Cellulitis

Cellulitis can occur anywhere in the body, so it is divided into different types depending on the body part affected.

  1. Cellulitis of the Extremities - This affects the arms, legs, and feet. It is the most common type of cellulitis.

  2. Facial Cellulitis - It can occur anywhere in the face, lips, and tongue.

  3. Orbital and Periorbital Cellulitis - Skin infection of the eyelids or the structures surrounding the eye.

  4. Breast Cellulitis - Women with breast cancer and a history of lumpectomy are more susceptible to develop breast cellulitis.

  5. Perianal Cellulitis - This is usually seen in children. Here the skin around the anal orifice gets infected.

What are the Causes and Risk Factors for Cellulitis?

Bacteria are present on the surface of the skin and normally do not cause any infection. But in the following cases, bacteria (Streptococcus and Staphylococcus) enters the skin and causes infection:

  • Cut or trauma to the skin.
  • Diabetes.
  • Conditions causing poor blood flow to the arms and legs, for example, varicose veins.
  • Liver diseases like hepatitis, cirrhosis, etc.
  • Skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, athlete’s foot, etc.
  • Weak immune system.
  • Insect bite.
  • Infection after surgery.
  • History of cellulitis.
  • Intravenous drug users.
  • Infectious diseases like chicken pox.
  • Being overweight.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Cellulitis?

The usual signs and symptoms include:

  • The affected area becomes red, swollen, tender, and painful.
  • The skin will be warm to touch.
  • There might be abscess formation with pus in the center.
  • The skin appears glossy, tight, and swollen.
  • Skin dimpling.

What are the Methods to Diagnose Cellulitis?

The doctor will usually diagnose the condition through clinical presentation and physical examination. Sometimes, the doctor might ask for the following tests:

  • Blood test - If the doctor suspects the infection to have spread to the blood.
  • X-ray - To check if the underlying bone is infected.
  • Culture - The fluid collected from the infected area is sent to the lab for a culture test.

What are the Treatment Options for Cellulitis?

Oral Antibiotics:

Your doctor might prescribe oral antibiotics for 10 to 21 days. The length of antibiotic regimen will depend on the severity of the infection. You will usually see improvement after taking oral antibiotics for 7 to 10 days, but complete the antibiotic course even after all the signs and symptoms go away.

Painkiller:

Along with antibiotics, your doctor might also prescribe painkillers to relieve the pain and discomfort caused by the infection.

IV Antibiotics:

If you have a high fever or high blood pressure or immunologically compromised or if oral antibiotics are not effective, then the doctor might advise hospitalization. In such cases, antibiotics are given intravenously.

Surgery:

In some rare cases, when the infection is severe, surgery might be needed. Here, the doctor may drain the collected pus and cut away dead tissue to promote healing.

How can Cellulitis be Prevented?

Following are some of the preventive measures:

  • Keep your skin clean.
  • Practice good personal hygiene.
  • Do not wear tight-fitting socks and shoes.
  • If you get injured, wash the area properly with warm water and soap.

Complications of Cellulitis

The complications include:

  • Repeated and recurrent episodes of cellulitis can damage the lymphatic system and cause swelling of the limb.

  • Can cause a deep-layer infection called necrotizing fasciitis.

  • Blood infection.

  • Bone infection.

  • Gangrene (tissue death).

Home Remedies of Cellulitis

  • Elevate the infected part of the body.
  • A cool and damp cloth can be placed on the affected area for comfort.
  • Keep moving the joint near the affected area to prevent it from getting stiff.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Do not wear compression stockings until the infection is resolved.

When to See a Doctor?

Untreated cellulitis might be fatal, so if you see the following symptoms, get immediate medical attention:

  • Fever.
  • Chills.
  • Feeling tired.
  • Dizziness.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Sweating.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Lethargy.
  • Blisters and red streaks on the affected skin.

If you are suffering from cellulitis which is not getting better with antibiotics, you can consult a dermatologist online. You can click pictures of the affected area and share it with the doctor along with the symptoms, or you can talk to an experienced doctor through real-time video consultation.

Last reviewed at: 12.Mar.2019

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