Cellulitis: Treatment, types and symptoms

Cellulitis, not to be confused with cellulite, is a bacterial infection of the dermis—the deep layer of skin—as well as the subcutaneous tissues, the fat and soft tissue layer that are under the skin.

Some types of bacteria are naturally present on the skin and do not normally cause any harm. However, if the bacteria go deep into the skin, they can cause an infection. Bacteria can enter through cuts, grazes, or bites.

People with conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis may have a higher risk of developing cellulitis.

Fast facts on cellulitis

Here are some key points about cellulitis. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

Cellulitis occurs when bacteria enter the deep layers of skin through a wound or sore.

The legs are most commonly affected.

Risk factors include a reduced immune response and obesity.

Diagnosis of cellulitis is relatively easy from observing external symptoms.

Cellulitis nearly always responds rapidly to antibiotics.

What is cellulitis?

[Cross-section of the skin]
Cellulitis is an infection of the deeper layers of the skin.

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the deeper layers of the skin. It can start suddenly, and it can become serious if not treated.

If it spreads deeper into the body, it can be life-threatening.

Early treatment with antibiotics is usually successful. Most people can be treated at home, but sometimes they need to spend time in the hospital.

Cellulitis can affect any part of the body, but it is most likely to appear in the lower legs. It is a painful condition.

Treatment

The following treatments are commonly recommended for cellulitis:

Medication

Cellulitis nearly always responds rapidly to antibiotics. Some people experience a slight worsening of the reddening of the skin at the start of antibiotic treatment, which usually subsides within a couple of days.

However, anyone who experiences fever, vomiting, or any worsening of their symptoms after starting antibiotic treatment, should contact a doctor immediately. Many different types of antibiotics can be used to treat cellulitis. Which type the doctor prescribes will depend on what type of bacteria the doctor suspects has caused the infection.

Antibiotics are normally taken for 5-10 days, but treatment might last 14 days or more in some cases.

Treatment in the hospital

Some people with severe cellulitis may require hospital treatment, especially if the cellulitis is deteriorating, if the person has a high fever, is vomiting, fails to respond to treatment, or has recurrences of cellulitis.

Most people who are treated in hospital will receive their antibiotic through a vein in their arm (intravenously, using a drip).

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Types

Cellulitis can be classified into different types, according to where it appears.

This can be:

around the eyes, known as periorbital cellulitis

around the eyes, nose, and cheeks, known as facial cellulitis

breast cellulitis

perianal cellulitis, occurring around the anal orifice

However, the most common location is the lower legs.

Symptoms

The affected area will become:

warm

tender

inflamed

swollen

red

painful

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