Cellulitis: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Cellulitis is a common, potentially severe bacterial skin infection. The damaged skin appears inflamed and red and is generally painful and warm to the touch.

Cellulitis generally affects the skin on the lower legs, but it could happen in the face, arms, and other regions. It happens when a crack or break in your skin permits bacteria to enter.

Left untreated, the infection could spread to your lymph nodes and bloodstream and quickly become life-threatening. It does not generally spread from person to person.


Possible signs and symptoms of cellulitis, which generally happen on one side of the body, include:

  • Red region of skin that tends to expand
  • Inflammation
  • Tenderness
  • Pain
  • Warmth
  • Fever
  • Red spots
  • Blisters
  • Skin dimpling


It is crucial to identify and treat cellulitis early because the condition could spread rapidly throughout your body.

Look for emergency care if:

  • You have a red, inflamed, tender rash or a rash that is changing quickly
  • You have a fever

See your doctor or primary care physician, preferably that day, if:

  • You have a rash that is red, inflamed, tender, and warm and it is expanding but without fever


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

However, cellulitis could happen anywhere on your body, the most common location is the lower leg. Bacteria are most likely to enter disrupted regions of skin, for example where you have had recent surgery, cuts, puncture wounds, an ulcer, athlete’s foot, or dermatitis.

Animal bites could cause cellulitis. Bacteria could also enter through regions of dry, flaky skin or inflamed skin.


Various factors put you at increased risk of cellulitis:

  • Injury – Any cut, fracture, burn or scrape provides bacteria an entry or opening point.
  • Weakened immune system – Conditions that weaken your immune system for example diabetes, leukemia, and HIV/AIDS leave you more vulnerable to infections. Specific medications also could weaken your immune system.
  • Skin conditions – Conditions for example eczema, athlete’s foot, and shingles could cause breaks in the skin, which give bacteria an entry or opening point.
  • Chronic swelling or inflammation of your arms or legs (lymphedema) – This condition sometimes follows surgery.
  • History of cellulitis – Having had cellulitis before makes you vulnerable to develop it again.
  • Obesity – Being overweight or obese raises your risk of developing cellulitis.


Recurrent episodes of cellulitis might damage the lymphatic drainage system and cause chronic swelling of the damaged limb.

Rarely, the infection could spread to the deep layer of tissue known as the fascial lining. Necrotizing fasciitis is an instance of a deep-layer infection. It is an extreme emergency.


If your cellulitis recurs, your doctor or primary care physician might suggest preventive antibiotics. To help prevent or stop cellulitis and other infections, take these precautions when you have a skin wound:

  • Wash your wound daily with soap and water – Do this mildly as part of your normal bathing.
  • Apply a protective cream or ointment – For most surface wounds, an over-the-counter ointment (Vaseline, Polysporin, others) offers sufficient protection.
  • Cover your wound with a bandage – Change bandages at least every day.
  • Watch for signs of infection – Redness, pain, and drainage all signal possible infection and the requirements for medical assessment.

People with diabetes and those with poor circulation require to take extra precautions to prevent or stop skin injury. Good skincare measures involve the following:

  • Inspect your feet every day – Daily check your feet for signs of injury so you could catch infections early.
  • Moisturize your skin daily – Lubricating your skin helps prevent or stops cracking and peeling. Do not apply moisturizer to open skin infection.
  • Cut your fingernails and toenails carefully – Take care not to injure the nearby skin.
  • Protect your hands and feet – Wear proper footwear and gloves.
  • Promptly treat infections on the skin’s surface (superficial), for example, athlete’s foot – Superficial skin infections could easily spread from person to person. Do not wait to begin treatment.


Your doctor or primary care physician will likely be able to diagnose cellulitis by looking at your skin. In some cases, he or she might recommend blood tests or other tests to help rule out other conditions.


Cellulitis treatment generally includes a prescription oral antibiotic. Within 3 days of beginning an antibiotic, let your doctor or primary care physician know whether the infection is responding to treatment. You will require to take the antibiotic for as long as your doctor or primary care physician directs, generally 5 to 10 days but possibly as long as 14 days.

In most cases, signs and symptoms of cellulitis vanish after a few days. You might require to be hospitalized and receive antibiotics through your veins (intravenously) if:

  • There is no response from signs and symptoms to oral antibiotics
  • Signs and symptoms are extensive
  • You have a high fever

Generally, doctors or primary care physicians prescribe a drug that is effective against both streptococci and staphylococci. It is crucial that you take the medication as directed and finish the entire course of medication, even after you feel better.

Your doctor or primary care physician also may suggest elevating the affected region, which might speed recovery.

If you or anyone you know is suffering from cellulitis, our expert providers at Specialty Care Clinics will take care of your health and help you recover.

Call 469-805-4561 to book a telehealth appointment for an at-home check-up.

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