Cellulitis: What to know

Cellulitis is a bacterial illness that affects the skin’s deeper layers as well as the fat and soft tissue underneath them.

Cellulitis affects around 14.5 million people in the United States each year.

Some bacteria are found on the skin naturally and do not cause damage. However, if they go into the skin, they can cause an infection. Bacteria enters the body through wounds, grazes, and bites.

Cellulitis is not to be confused with cellulite, a non-cancerous “orange peel” appearance on the upper arms and thighs.

What is it?

cellulitis
Image credit: John Campbell, 2018

Cellulitis is a painful bacterial infection that affects the skin’s deeper layers.

It can appear out of nowhere and can escalate into a life-threatening situation if not treated promptly.

Mild instances have a localized infection with redness in one areaTrusted Source. In more catastrophic situations, an infection spreads quickly and can lead to sepsis.

To some part, the spread will be determined by the strength of the individual’s immune system.

Causes

Streptococcus and Staphylococcus bacteria are commonly found on the skin’s surface, where they are not hazardous.

They can cause an infection if they enter the skin through a wound or scrape.

Symptoms

In the affected region, the following symptoms may appear:

  • tenderness and pain
  • warmth
  • redness and swelling

Some persons have blisters, dimpling, or patches on their skin.

Other infection symptoms that a person may encounter include:

  • shivering
  • a fever
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • chills and cold sweats

The lymph glands may also enlarge and become painful. The lymph glands in the groin, for example, may be affected by cellulitis in the leg.

Types

Depending on where the infection occurs, there are many forms of cellulitis.

Some examples are:

  • breast cellulitis
  • perianal cellulitis, which develops around the anal orifice
  • facial cellulitis, which develops around the eyes, nose, and cheeks
  • periorbital cellulitis, which develops around the eyes

Cellulitis can affect the hands and feet as well as other parts of the body. Cellulitis usually affects the lower leg in adults, whereas it affects the face or neck in youngsters.

Treatment

Antibiotic therapy is typically successful if started early. The majority of people receive therapy at home, although some require hospitalization.

One or more of the following therapies may be recommended by a doctor:

Medication

Oral antibiotic therapy for a mild case of cellulitis generally takes 7–14 days. The symptoms may intensify at first, but they normally improve within two days.

Cellulitis can be treated with a variety of antibiotics. After considering the type of bacteria that caused the infection as well as circumstances unique to each person, the doctor will choose the appropriate course of action.

Most people recover after two weeks, but if the symptoms are severe, it may take longer.

To avoid recurrence, a doctor may prescribe a low-dose oral antibiotic for long-term usage.

Treatment in the hospital

Some people with severe cellulitis need to be admitted to the hospital, especially if they have:

  • They are experiencing a reoccurrence of cellulitis.
  • The symptoms are becoming more severe.
  • They have a high fever.
  • Current treatment is not working.
  • They are vomiting

Most patients with this type of infection are treated with antibiotics intravenously in the hospital, through a drip that administers the drug through a vein in the arm.

Risk factors

Factors that can increase the risk of cellulitis include:

  • Obesity: Cellulitis is more common among people with excess weight or obesity.
  • Leg issues: Swelling (edema) and ulceration can increase the risk of developing the infection.
  • Other skin issues: Chicken pox, eczema, athlete’s foot, abscesses, and other skin conditions can increase the risk of bacteria entering the body.
  • Previous cellulitis: Anyone who has had cellulitis before has an 8–20% chance of it returning, research indicates, and the infection can reoccur several times within a year.
  • Age: Cellulitis is more likely to occur during or after middle age.
  • Weakened immune system: People may have this if they are older, if they have HIV or AIDS, or if they are undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
  • Circulatory problems: People with poor blood circulation have a higher risk of infection spreading to deeper layers of the skin.
  • Recent surgery or injury: This increases the risk of infection.
  • Exposure to environmental factors: These include polluted water and some animals, including fish and reptiles.
  • Lymphedema: This can lead to swollen skin, which can crack and allow bacteria to enter.
  • Other conditions: People with liver or kidney disease have a higher risk of developing cellulitis.
  • Intravenous drug use: Injecting drugs, especially with used needles, can lead to abscesses and infections under the skin, increasing the risk of cellulitis.
  • Diabetes: If a person is not able to manage their diabetes effectively, problems with their immune system, circulation, or both can lead to skin ulcers.

Diagnosis

The patient will be examined by a doctor who will analyze their symptoms.

They may also do a swab or biopsy to determine which germs are present. Other illnesses that appear similar to cellulitis can be ruled out using laboratory tests.

A doctor can recommend the best therapy after determining the cause and kind of bacteria. This can be difficult, however, because the presence of different germs on the skin might lead to erroneous findings.

Complications

Serious problems can occur in rare circumstances. They are as follows:

Permanent swelling: Without treatment, the person’s afflicted region may develop persistent edema.

Blood infection and sepsis: Bacteria entering the circulation causes this life-threatening condition, which requires immediate treatment.

Fever, fast heartbeat, rapid breathing, low blood pressure, dizziness while standing up, decreased urine flow, and sweaty, pale, and chilly skin are all signs of sepsis.

Infection in other regions: Bacteria that cause cellulitis can spread to other parts of the body, including muscles, bones, and heart valves, in extremely rare circumstances. If this occurs, the individual need emergency medical attention.

Effective therapy can usually avert problems.

Remedy at home

Cellulitis demands prompt medical attention; it will not heal on its own.

However, there are certain things that may be done to make one feel more at ease while waiting for medical help and throughout treatment.

The following are some suggestions:

  • moving the affected part of the body regularly to prevent stiffness
  • not wearing compression stockings until the infection has healed
  • drinking plenty of water
  • taking pain relief medication, such as ibuprofen
  • keeping the affected area raised to help reduce swelling and pain

Some people use antibacterial natural medicines like thyme and cypress oil. There is, however, little scientific data to suggest that any plant-based therapies will effectively treat cellulitis.

Anyone experiencing symptoms should seek medical attention right once. Cellulitis can be fatal if left untreated.

Prevention

Although cellulitis cannot always be avoided, there are several steps that may be taken to lessen the risk.

Treat cuts and grazes: To limit the risk of infection, keep any cut, bite, graze, or wound clean, even those after recent surgery.

Scratching should be avoided: If an insect bite is itchy, for example, ask a pharmacist how to relieve the itching. When scratching is inevitable, keeping fingernails clean and short can aid in infection prevention.

Take good care of your skin: Moisturizers can help prevent dry skin from breaking, but they won’t assist if you already have an infection.

Skin protection: When gardening, use gloves and long sleeves, and avoid wearing shorts if you’re worried about grazing your skin. Insect bites can also be avoided by covering yourself.

Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity might increase your chances of getting cellulitis.

Avoid smoking and drink in moderation: These factors may also raise the risk.

Seek medical care if you have any other medical issues: People with diabetes, for example, should do everything they can to keep their condition under control.

Intravenous drug people can get help from their doctor or by calling the national hotline in the United States for treatment referrals and information. The toll-free hotline is 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Calls are free and private, and the line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Conclusion

Cellulitis is a potentially serious illness that affects the skin’s deeper layers and the tissue underneath them.

It can cause a lot of pain and even put your life in danger. There is a strong likelihood that if a person receives therapy as soon as symptoms arise, the treatment will be helpful.

Once you’ve had cellulitis, you’re more likely to have it again. There are certain things that can be done to assist prevent this.

Sources:

  • https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cellulitis/
  • https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/rashes/cellulitis
  • https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/56/12/1763/401280
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5435909/
  • https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/152663
  • https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2533510
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6303460/
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3931201/