Cellulitis – Conditions

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Cellulitis is a common, potentially serious bacterial skin infection. The affected skin appears swollen and red and is typically painful and warm to the touch. Cellulitis usually affects the skin on the lower legs, but it can occur on the face, arms, and other areas. It occurs when a crack or break in your skin allows bacteria to enter. Left untreated, the infection can spread to your lymph nodes and bloodstream and rapidly become life-threatening. It isn’t usually spread from person to person.

Cellulitis is fairly common and affects people of all races and ages. Men and women appear to be equally affected. Although cellulitis can occur in people of any age, it is most common in middle-aged and elderly people. Cellulitis is not contagious.

Causes 

Cellulitis occurs when bacteria, most commonly streptococcus and staphylococcus, enter through a crack or break in your skin. The incidence of a more serious staphylococcus infection called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is increasing.

Although cellulitis can occur anywhere on your body, the most common location is the lower leg. Bacteria are most likely to enter disrupted areas of skin, such as where you’ve had recent surgery, cuts, puncture wounds, ulcers, athlete’s foot, or dermatitis. Animal bites can also cause cellulitis. Bacteria can also enter through areas of dry, flaky skin or swollen skin.

Symptoms

Possible signs and symptoms of cellulitis, which usually occur on one side of the body, include:

  • The red area of skin that tends to expand
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Pain
  • Warmth
  • Fever
  • Red spots
  • Blisters
  • Skin dimpling

Diagnosis

A doctor will examine the individual and assess their symptoms. They may also take a swab or biopsy to find out which type of bacteria is present. Laboratory tests can help rule out other possible causes, as other conditions may look like cellulitis.

Identifying the cause and type of bacteria enables a doctor to prescribe the most suitable treatment. However, this can be challenging, as the presence of various types of bacteria on the skin can lead to inaccurate results.

Treatment

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:

  • Signs and symptoms don’t respond to oral antibiotics
  • Signs and symptoms are extensive
  • You have a high fever

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.

When to See a Doctor?

It’s important to identify and treat cellulitis early because the condition can spread rapidly throughout your body. Seek emergency care if:

  • You have a red, swollen, tender rash or a rash that’s changing rapidly
  • You have a fever

See your doctor, preferably that day, if:

  • You have a rash that’s red, swollen, tender, and warm, or if it’s expanding but without fever

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