(sel-u-LIE-tis) is a common, potentially serious bacterial skin infection. Cellulitis appears as a swollen, red area of skin that feels hot and tender. It can spread rapidly to other parts of the body. Cellulitis isn’t usually spread from person to person.
Skin on lower legs is most commonly affected, though cellulitis can occur anywhere on your body or face. Cellulitis might affect only your skin’s surface. Or it might also affect tissues underlying your skin and can spread to your lymph nodes and bloodstream.
Left untreated, the spreading infection can rapidly turn life-threatening. It’s important to seek immediate medical attention if cellulitis symptoms occur.
Possible signs and symptoms of cellulitis, which usually occur on one side of the body, include:
Several factors can place you at greater risk of developing cellulitis:
. Any cut, fracture, burn or scrape gives bacteria an entry point.
Weakened immune system.
Conditions that weaken your immune system — such as Diabetes, Leukemia and HIV/AIDS — leave you more susceptible to infections. Certain medications, such as corticosteroids, also can weaken your immune system.
Skin disorders — such as eczema, Athlete’s foot, Chickenpox and Shingles — can cause breaks in the skin and give bacteria an entry point.
Chronic swelling of your arms or legs (Lymphedema).
Swollen tissue may crack, leaving your skin vulnerable to bacterial infection.
History of cellulitis.
People who previously had cellulitis, especially of the lower leg, may be more prone to develop it again.
Intravenous drug use.
People who inject illegal drugs have a higher risk of developing cellulitis.
Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing cellulitis and having recurring episodes.
The bacteria that cause cellulitis can spread rapidly, entering lymph nodes and your bloodstream. Recurrent episodes of cellulitis may damage the lymphatic drainage system and cause chronic swelling of the affected limb.
In rare cases, the infection can spread to the deep layer of tissue called the fascial lining. Flesh-eating strep (necrotizing fasciitis) is an example of a deep-layer infection. It represents an extreme emergency.
TREATMENTS AND DRUGS
Cellulitis treatment usually includes a prescription oral antibiotic. Within three days of starting an antibiotic, let your doctor know whether the infection is responding to treatment. You’ll need to take the antibiotic for as long as your doctor directs, usually five to 10 days but possibly as long as 14 days.
In most cases, signs and symptoms of cellulitis disappear after a few days. You may need to be hospitalized and receive antibiotics through your veins (intravenously) if:
Usually, doctors prescribe a drug that’s effective against both streptococci and staphylococci. It’s important that you take the medication as directed and finish the entire course of medication, even after you feel better.
Your doctor also might recommend elevating the affected area, which may speed recovery.
LIFESTYLE AND HOME REMEDIES
If your cellulitis recurs, your doctor may recommend preventive antibiotics. To help prevent cellulitis and other infections, take these precautions when you have a skin wound:
People with Diabetes and those with poor circulation need to take extra precautions to prevent skin injury. Good skin care measures include the following: