Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and soft tissues. It is common and most often it’s caused by bacteria that normally live on the skin. These bacteria don’t normally cause any problems unless the skin is scratched, torn or punctured. The most common bacteria that cause cellulitis are streptococci “Strep” or staphylococci “Staph.”
Most of the time cellulitis is mild and heals with the use of antibiotics, however it can become severe and cause an infection that spreads throughout the body if left untreated. It can also lead to deep infections called abscesses.
1) Chronic skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis
2) Accumulation of fluid (edema) due to poor circulation possibly from heart failure, liver disease, or removal of lymph nodes
3) Recent injury, wound, cut or laceration to the skin
4) Current skin infection such as athlete’s foot or impetigo
5) Being overweight
Symptoms: Pain, tenderness, increased warmth, redness and swelling in a distinct area of skin. The skin can be smooth and shiny in this area. Fever and chills are not usually present.
Other skin infections: different kinds of infections that can be confused with cellulitis include an abscess or boil. These are different because they are usually bumpy, raised and filled with pus. Abscesses are usually caused by a staph bacteria which may be MRSA. Cellulitis is more commonly caused by “strep” bacteria.
Treatment: We commonly use antibiotics and also treat the underlying problem that caused the skin infection (such as athlete’s food or increased edema, eczema or psoriasis) if present.
Keeping the area elevated to reduce inflammation is also helpful. It is important to keep the infected area clean and dry. Showering or bathing can be done normally, but pat the area dry with a clean towel afterwards to dry the area completely. You can also use a bandage or gauze to protect the skin if needed.
Antibiotics are often used and will be tailored to the individual patient. The patient’s specific area of infection, medical history, history of allergies and examination will be important in determining the proper antibiotics to use. Sometimes the antibiotics will need to be given by IV in more serious cases of cellulitis.
Treatment time: In most cases, the swelling, warmth and redness should improve within 1-3 days after starting the antibiotics. We often use a Sharpie marker and draw a circle around the area of redness so that we can examine the red area over a few days to see if it’s increasing, decreasing or staying the same. Symptoms of redness and swelling can persist for up to 2 weeks but it should be gradually decreasing. If it’s not improving, you should call or return to your health care provider for re-evaluation.
This document is for informational purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual patient. If you have questions please contact your medical provider.
I hope that you have found this information useful. Wishing you the best of health,
Scott Rennie, DO