Cellulitis is a bacterial infection that affects the skin. Without proper treatment, the infection can spread to the lymph nodes and bloodstream, resulting in a life-threatening systemic infection. An awareness of the signs and symptoms of cellulitis can help you know when to seek help to treat an infection before it gets out of hand.
9. What Is Cellulitis?
According to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, cellulitis can occur when bacteria such as Group A ß-hemolytic streptococcus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, or Staphylococcus aureus infect deep layers of skin. These bacteria commonly reside on the skin and within the mucous membranes of healthy individuals. However, when a cut, animal bite, or injury allows the bacteria to enter the skin, a serious infection can occur. Cellulitis most commonly occurs on the skin of the lower legs, although it can crop up in other areas of the body. This infection is not a contagious condition transmitted from one person to another.
8. Risk Factors
Anyone can develop cellulitis when a wound, cut, burn, or scratch allows bacteria to permeate the deeper layers of the skin and the tissues beneath it. However, certain situations can put you at a higher risk of acquiring cellulitis. These include disorders associated with a weakened immune system, such as diabetes, HIV, or cancer. Diseases that affect the integrity of your skin, such as psoriasis or fungal infections, may also increase your risk of cellulitis. Lymphedema, a swelling of the limbs that may follow surgery, can also lead to cellulitis. Lastly, obesity may contribute to the risk of this infection.
7. Signs and Symptoms
According to the Mayo Clinic, cellulitis may present with areas of the skin that are warm, red, and tender to the touch. The affected area may be swollen and painful. Furthermore, cellulitis may be accompanied by fever. In addition, the area of redness may grow or become enlarged over time. Signs of a progressing infection may include red spots, red streaks, blisters, pus-filled bumps, or dimpling of the skin. Skin dimpling or pitting refers to skin that takes on the texture or appearance of an orange peel.
Without medical treatment, cellulitis can progress to infect the bloodstream and lymph nodes. Signs of a severe case of cellulitis may include fever, numbness or tingling, and blackened skin. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, complications of cellulitis can include tissue damage and gangrene. An infection that spreads to organs and body systems such as the heart, lymphatic system, or nervous system can result in shock or death.
If you notice signs or symptoms of cellulitis, seek medical treatment by contacting your physician or visiting an urgent care center. Your doctor may be able to diagnose cellulitis simply by conducting a physical examination. In most cases, you will not require invasive testing to diagnose this condition. However, in some cases, your doctor may order a blood test in order to determine the best antibiotic for your infection. If your physician suspects a condition other than cellulitis may be causing your symptoms, he or she may refer you to a dermatologist.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, treatment for cellulitis involves several components. The first step is to treat the infection through the use of antibiotics. If your doctor prescribes oral antibiotics, it is important to take the medication exactly as prescribed to fully eradicate the infection. In some severe cases, a cellulitis infection may require treatment with IV antibiotics. If your infection involves an open sore, your physician may also instruct you on properly treating the wound. When an underlying medical disorder has triggered an episode of cellulitis, your doctor will take steps to treat that condition as well.
Keeping the infected areas elevated and getting plenty of rest may also allow your body to recover more quickly. Rest triggers your brain to release hormones that promote tissue repair. During sleep, your body is also able to relax and focus on the processes that reduce inflammation and aid in healing. Furthermore, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain medications to ease your discomfort. With proper antibiotics and rest, most patients recover from cellulitis within seven to 10 days of antibiotic treatment. Notify your doctor if you do not begin to feel better within three days of antibiotic use.
If you are at risk for cellulitis, you can take steps to protect yourself against an infection. Use a moisturizer to keep your skin protected against dryness and chapping. Wear protective clothing such as long sleeves, long pants, and sturdy shoes when hiking or performing yard work. Protective clothing can help to prevent the scrapes and scratches that introduce infection. A pair of work gloves can protect your hands, as can household gloves for cleaning. If you have diabetes, inspect your skin regularly for cuts or abrasions. Take care when trimming toenails or fingernails to prevent accidental cuts or wounds.
1. Skin Symptoms You Should Not Ignore
While some skin conditions are treatable at home with antibiotic ointments and a bandage, others require medical treatment. Seek medical attention if you have a large, deep, or jagged wound that you cannot keep closed. If you injure yourself on an old, dirty, or rusty item, seek medical attention. If your wound is contaminated by dirt, gravel, or other objects, you will need to have it cleaned by a medical professional. Additional situations that may warrant professional treatment include uncontrolled bleeding, fever, and pus or discharge. Always contact your physician if you are bitten by an animal.