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by 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.
Risk Factors TOP
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 are not usually needed. They may be taken of your bodily structures if there is concern about spreading. 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 given by mouth, injection, or IV. 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:
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 14, 2017. Accessed August 17, 2017.
Cellulitis. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/rashes/cellulitis. Accessed August 17, 2017.
Cellulitis. DermNet New Zealand website. Available at: https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/cellulitis. Updated July 2016. Accessed August 17, 2017.
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 August 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 9/9/2014
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