Debra Wood, RN
Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and tissue just below the skin. The infection may occur anywhere on the body. It is most common on the lower legs.
Cellulitis is caused by a bacterial infection. It may come from bacteria that normally live on the skin or bacteria from other sources. The bacteria enter the skin through a cut or injury. The infection spreads into the surrounding skin.
Factors that may increase the chance of cellulitis include:
Symptoms may begin within hours or days and can include:
Cellulitis near the eyes may cause pain with eye movements and should be treated right away.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor will also ask about exposure to natural bodies of water or animals. Your skin will be closely examined. The border of the cellulitis on your skin may be marked. This will help to monitor its progress
Tests may include:
In severe cases, the infection can lead to tissue death known as
gangrene. It can also spread to the bone or other structures.
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
The goal is to eliminate the infection and reduce discomfort. Most cases resolve after 1-2 weeks of treatment.
Hospital care may be needed if you have:
Antibiotics may be taken by mouth or injected into a muscle or vein. The method will depend on the severity of the infection. The antibiotic chosen will depend on the bacteria causing the infection. Pain medication may also be prescribed.
This may include:
If you have an infected wound, it will need to be cleaned. Dead tissue may be removed.
In certain situations, a collection of pus may develop. This is called an
abscess. It can be drained.
To help reduce your chance of cellulitis:
American Academy of Dermatology
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Canadian Dermatology Association
Cellulitis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:
http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116794/Cellulitis. Updated August 12, 2016. Accessed September 29, 2016.
Cellulitis and erysipelas. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website. Available at:
http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/cellulitiserysipelas/pages/default.aspx. Updated November 8, 2013. Accessed August 5, 2015.
Stevens DL, Bisno AL, Chambers HF, et al. Practice guidelines for the diagnosis and management of skin and soft tissue infections: 2014 update by the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
Clin Infect Dis. 2014;59(2):147-159.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
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