All About Cellulitis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

Reviewed on 9/29/2020

What is cellulitis?

Cellulitis may affect the normal skin, although it is usually preceded by a skin break or crack including the ones caused by an injury or surgery.

Cellulitis is a type of skin infection caused by bacteria. It is a common but serious skin condition that needs urgent medical attention. In the United States, cellulitis affects around 14.5 million cases each year. Cellulitis can occur anywhere on the skin. In adults, however, the leg is commonly affected. Children usually get cellulitis on their face or neck. Cellulitis involves a deep bacterial infection affecting the deep layers of the skin and tissue underneath. Untreated cellulitis can spread to the deeper tissues through the blood and become life-threatening.

Cellulitis usually begins as a red and swollen skin. The affected area feels warm and painful to touch. Cellulitis may affect the normal skin, although it is usually preceded by a skin break or crack including the ones caused by an injury or surgery.

Who is at a risk for cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a common condition and may affect anyone regardless of age or gender. Because cellulitis involves the entry of bacteria through a breach in the skin, keeping wounds clean and covered with a bandage can reduce the risk of cellulitis.

Conditions that reduce a person’s immunity make them vulnerable to get cellulitis. Some of the risk factors for cellulitis are as follows:

What causes cellulitis?

Cellulitis is caused by bacteria that may infect the skin at places where it is broken or cracked. Bacteria usually cause cellulitis by entering a wound, scratch, or cut on the skin. Cellulitis may also follow an insect bite or an exposed hair root.

The bacteria that most commonly cause cellulitis are as follows:

What are the symptoms of cellulitis?

Cellulitis typically begins as red, tense, and swollen skin. The symptoms of cellulitis include:

  • Skin redness and tightness
  • Swelling of the skin
  • Tenderness
  • Pain
  • Warm skin
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Blistering
  • Bruising
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Red streaks from the original site of the cellulitis

You must seek immediate medical help if:

  • There is a high fever.
  • The affected area is large and inflamed.
  • You get fever, chills, or cold sweats.
  • You get nausea or vomiting.
  • There is drowsiness, confusion, or trouble concentrating.
  • You get swollen nodes.
  • There are palpitations (a rapid heart rate)
  • You feel difficulty in breathing.
  • If the affected area has numbness or tingling.
  • The pain is intense.
  • The skin appears bluish/black.
  • Cellulitis affects the area around your eye(s) or behind the ear(s).
  • You have long-term medical conditions such as diabetes or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

How is cellulitis treated?

Cellulitis is a serious condition, and a healthcare provider must be consulted for proper treatment. Depending on your age, overall health, and severity of the condition, your doctor will provide the appropriate treatment for you.

Cellulitis treatment includes:

  • Antibiotics (oral, intramuscular [injection], or intravenous [IV])
  • Cool, wet dressings on the infection site
  • Keeping the affected area clean and dry 
  • Keeping the affected part elevated
  • Surgery (in some cases)
  • Rest
  • Topical (over the skin) antibiotics
  • Pain medications
  • Treatment of the underlying condition such as diabetes, eczema, or athlete’s foot (a fungal infection that usually begins between the toes)


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