Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and tissue just below it. The infection may occur anywhere on the body. However, it is most common on the lower legs. Treatment can help prevent it from spreading to other areas of the body.
Cellulitis is caused by bacteria. The bacteria may normally live on top of the skin or come from other sources. It enters the skin through a cut or injury on the skin surface. Once inside the skin, the bacteria can grow and cause infection.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may diagnose cellulitis based on how the skin looks. The outer edge of the redness may be marked. This will help to see if the infection spreads.
The doctor may also do blood tests. Fluid from the area may also be tested. This is to find out what bacteria is causing the problem.
The goal is to get rid of the infection and manage pain. Treatment may last 5 to 10 days. Most cellulitis will clear up after 1 to 2 weeks of treatment.
Hospital care may be needed for:
Diabetes or a weak immune system
An infection on the face
Treatment may be:
Medicine, such as:
Antibiotics—to clear the infection
Antifungals, by mouth or applied to the skin—for fungal infections
Supportive care, such as:
Keeping the area raised—to help move fluids out and speed healing
Protecting the skin—keeping the area clean and bandaged
Cellulitis. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/rashes/cellulitis. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Cellulitis. DermNet New Zealand website. Available at: https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/cellulitis. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Cellulitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116794/Cellulitis. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Cellulitis. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dermatologic-disorders/bacterial-skin-infections/cellulitis. Accessed March 29, 2021.
Linder KA, Malani PN. Cellulitis. JAMA. 2017;317(20):2142.
Stevens DL, Bisno AL, 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 December 2020 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Shawna Grubb, RN
Last Updated: 3/29/2021
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