Redness. Swelling. Tender, hot skin. Unfortunately, you’re not looking at the words of a bad romance novel – you’re looking at a severe infection that can be fatal without proper treatment. Cellulitis is an infection in the deep layers of your skin. It starts innocently enough with an insect bite or cut usually, but it then develops into something far worse. As bacteria enter that small opening in the skin, it settles into an infection deep in your skin’s layers. The virus spreads – usually quickly – until you’re feverish, feeling chills, and even experiencing swelling in your glands.
A large red section of your skin is tender to touch and feels warm. Red streaks shoot out from the infected spot, and now there is only one thing left to do – seek medical attention as quickly as possible. Without help, this deep skin infection can be deadly. Fortunately, once you have proper medical care and antibiotics, cellulitis is generally straightforward to treat and often preventable to at least a certain degree by using basic safety and health techniques at home or work.
While we are not a team of medical professionals able to treat or diagnose individual cases of cellulitis, you will find the information you need to understand cellulitis contained on these pages. After all, with a condition as serious as cellulitis, it is imperative that you know what to look for, what to expect, and – best of all – how to beat and prevent the condition going forward.
Cellulitis is a condition that does not discriminate based on age or health – it is a deep-seated infection that can turn deadly without proper care and attention. Your skin is your body’s best defense against any number of diseases, including infection. It is your largest organ and is generally good at its job. In the case of cellulitis, however, your skin’s defenses have been breached, and a deep-seated infection develops.
In many cases, cellulitis starts innocently enough with a cut, burn, or insect bite. With the opening in the skin, bacteria now have a channel inside the body. As the bacteria enter the body through the small opening, it starts to spread into the larger tissues of the body, including the deeper layers of the skin.
The bacteria develop into an infection that can spread quickly. If antibiotics are not used to heal the disease, it can continue to spread into the body, causing an infection of the lymph nodes or even the blood. At this point, the infection becomes deadly without prompt and appropriate medical intervention. While the vast majority of cellulitis patients acquire the disease through an opening such as a cut or insect bite, it is possible to develop the condition without a break in the skin. The individuals most susceptible to a skin infection in this way are older adults or those with weakened immune systems. Diabetes patients can be more likely to contract the virus without a cut or bite, as well.
Those with existing health conditions are more likely to develop dangerous symptoms with the cellulitis as well as being increasingly more likely to contract the disease more than once.
Any illness or treatments that cause the immune system to become weakened or to shut down will increase the risk of getting a contagious bacteria or virus. The following risk factors can increase the chance of becoming infected with staph, strep, or other bacteria that can cause cellulitis:
- Injury or medical procedure that causes a deep break in the skin
- IV drug use
- Chronic illness, treatment, medication, etc. that weakens the immune system
- Rash, allergy, eczema, chickenpox, MRSA, or other skin problems
- Lymphedema which can cause cracks in the skin
Anyone who has had a history of cellulitis is more likely to have it reoccur. When there are factors that increase the risk of getting sick from a contagious bacteria like the ones that cause cellulitis, it is important to prevent an infection.
Cellulitis Types – 6 Vulnerable Body Parts
Cellulitis can affect any part of the body that has skin on it. Some skin areas may be more susceptible to contact with the bacteria that causes cellulitis than other parts of the body. These are some of the types of cellulitis:
- Breast – infection of the skin or underlying tissue of the breast. It is most common in women, but can affect men. Breast cancer treatment, breast reduction surgery, and breast augmentation surgery can increase the risk.
- Facial – infection of the skin on the face, but excludes the eyes and skin around the eyes. Severe acne, oral infections, upper respiratory infections, injury, and lymphatic system problems can increase the risk.
- Perianal – infection of the anus. Hemorrhoids, poor hygiene, and constipation can increase the risk.
- Orbital – infection of the skin and tissue around the eye. Trauma to the eye, sinus infections, ear infection, and eye infections increase the risk.
- Periorbital – infection of the eyelids. Upper respiratory infections, trauma, and ingrown eyelashes increase risk.
- Extremity – infection of the skin on the hands, arms, legs, and feet. Various skin conditions that cause rashes, dryness, or breaks in the skin increase the risk.
Risk factors for various types of cellulitis do not cause the infection, but contact with bacteria does cause cellulitis. A compromised immune system will increase the risk of developing it.
Types of Cellulitis Bacteria
Streptococcus cellulitis and Staphylococcus cellulitis are the two most common cellulitis types. MRSA cellulitis does occur, but is not common. Any condition, illness, or injury that weakens the immune system will increase the risk of this infection from any of the bacteria that can cause an infection. Recognizing the symptoms of MRSA will prevent cellulitis complications.
The Symptoms of Cellulitis
There are several ways to determine the likelihood that one has a cellulitis infection. Initial symptoms start out small and often appear similar to other conditions, though as an infection spreads they will become more severe and indicative of cellulitis. Even the smallest symptoms should be heeded, however, as an increased the intensity of the infection brings on a possibility of serious complications. In order to identify cellulitis symptoms properly, one should be aware of what the possible signs of infection may be.
Early symptoms will usually manifest on the skin itself, creating visual indicators that an infection has taken hold. Redness of the infected area is the most common, though this can often be mistaken for other problems, such as eczema or even a sunburn. Redness may be accompanied by pain or tenderness and often the flesh will feel warm as well. These symptoms will spread out and affect a wider area as the infection becomes worse.
Sores or rashes may appear, sometimes abruptly and often spreading quickly. There may be small red spots interspersed across the surface of the reddened skin or red streaks along an area of the arm or leg. Skin may also take on a tight or stretched quality and appear glossy.
As the infection becomes rooted, new symptoms will appear. These will create more discomfort than the first signs and it will become obvious by this point that there is a serious health problem. Aside from a general feeling of being sick, some of the advanced cellulitis symptoms may be:
- Aches or pains in the muscles
- Chills, sweating or fever
- Swelling of tissues around the joints
- Tenderness or swelling of glands near the infected area
There are other symptoms as well, though these are rarer and usually indicate an infection that should be dealt with promptly:
- Blisters on the surface of the infected area, often bursting and leaking a clear yellow fluid
- Hair loss near where the infection has taken hold
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Stiffness in the joints
One particular type of cellulitis is when the infection takes place near the eyes. This is referred to as orbital or preorbital cellulitis and is one of the more dangerous forms of this problem. Symptoms which may indicate this serious type of infection include:
- Pain in the eye, particularly with movement
- Swelling of the eye
- Swelling in areas around the eyes, including the eyelids, brows and cheeks
- Changes in vision or a loss of vision
When to Visit a Doctor
It is best to visit a doctor whenever even the smallest of symptoms occur, as early detection can prevent complications. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. Cellulitis symptoms can go unrecognized for several days and are often ignored until they become uncomfortable to the person suffering from infection. There are a few symptoms which, if experienced, are an indicator that one needs to visit a hospital emergency room immediately:
- The infected area is growing rapidly or becoming hardened.
- Numbness of the reddened area occurs.
- The infection occurs on the face or in the groin area.
- Onset of a high fever.
- Wounds or blisters begin to leak fluid.
Those who suffer from other health problems which can get worse due to infection should visit a doctor without delay at the first sign of any symptoms. Diabetes or a weakened immune system is particularly serious when combined with cellulitis and can result in even a minor infection becoming quite severe.
Though some cellulitis symptoms may prompt an immediate doctor’s visit more than others, in the end the best way to beat this infection is to start treating it as soon as possible. The earlier treatment begins, the quicker recovery will be and the less chances that other health problems may arise. By knowing what the symptoms of this infection are, one can be prepared and take the necessary steps in order to ensure continued good health.
While it’s impossible to go through life without paper cuts or mosquito bites, you can take steps to avoid some means of infection. Cellulitis can start or be caused by any of the following conditions:
- Skin injuries including cuts or wounds
- Burns on the skin
- Animal and insect bites
- Ulcers, eczema, or psoriasis on the skin.
- Fungal infections like athlete’s foot
- Medical conditions including diabetes
- Edema, or fluid buildup, in the limbs of the body.
- Illegal drug use through intravenous needles.
To offer yourself some measure of protection, you should be proactive about developing inviting conditions or exposing yourself to additional bacteria.
- Wear gloves when working in the dirt or with raw meats where bacteria are known to be present.
- Wash hands regularly to avoid transferring bacteria to other areas of your body.
- Bathe regularly.
- Clean injuries immediately to remove bacteria with peroxide or other medical cleansing agents.
- Cover and protect all injuries or exposed skin from bites or burns.
- Wear long pants and sleeves when working out of doors when possible.
- Check your body regularly for suspicious areas or redness.
- Follow the doctor’s instructions carefully following surgical procedures.
- Treat skin conditions quickly and thoroughly to avoid open lesions on the skin.
Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and underlying tissue. The complications occur when a cut, scrape, or abrasion allows the bacteria to enter the body. When it isn’t treated, or the infection doesn’t respond to the treatment, the infection can spread. Various risk factors are associated with complications. When bacteria spread from the initial point of infection, it can infect organs, the blood, and other parts of the body. The most common bacteria that are responsible for cellulitis are streptococcus and staphylococcus.
One complication of cellulitis is MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which is a severe bacterial infection that is challenging to treat. Any disease that spreads to other parts of the body can be severe, but an MRSA infection can get worse really fast and suddenly become life-threatening. When bacteria spread from the skin, complication of cellulitis like the following can occur:
- Sepsis – infection of the blood
- Meningitis – infection of the brain membrane
- Endocarditis – infection of the heart lining and valves
- Myocarditis – a disease of blood vessels
- Lymphangitis – infection of the lymphatic vessels
- Necrotizing fasciitis – infection of the deep layers of the skin
There are many other types of infections that can occur when the bacteria spread from the surface. Lymph nodes near the location of the infection may swell and become tender. Complications are not common, but some people are at a higher risk of complications from cellulitis.
Simply washing with soap and water will help prevent infections and reduce the risk of spreading bacteria to others. Avoiding using products and medications that kill bacteria will help reduce the risk of MRSA developing. Keep in mind anything that kills bacteria kills both harmful and beneficial bacteria. This can alter the balance of bacteria and increase the risk of complications. Taking antibiotics precisely as prescribed by the doctor is essential. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of cellulitis will prevent complications from this infection.
Secondary cellulitis can be treated at home, but it is generally treated with antibiotics. When the infection is not treated or does not respond to treatment, complications can develop, which will need additional treatment. Further testing is often done to determine the specific strain of bacteria so that the most effective antibiotics can be treated. Complications may develop into life-threatening conditions, so hospitalization may be needed to administer antibiotics intravenously and to monitor the patient. Additional procedures, like taking a sample of spinal fluid, may be required to identify where and if the bacteria have spread to other parts of the body. In the case of an MRSA infection, steps will need to be taken to prevent the spread of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.
Cellulitis treatment generally prevents the development of complications, but when it does, prompt treatment will be necessary.
Cellulitis treatment, which normally involves antibiotics, will generally be arranged in stages.
Cellulitis antibiotics can be administered topically, orally, or intravenously. They should only be used when necessary because over usage of antibiotics can increase the risk of acquiring a severe infection.
Oral antibiotics are the first option that your physician will use to deal with cellulitis. This will be accompanied by regular check-ups so that the doctor can monitor the progress and ensure that the antibiotics are working. When necessary, painkillers will also be prescribed. Mild infections generally respond to antibiotics very well and will clear up with minor or no problems.
Good hygiene, a strong immune system, and proper wound care will help prevent infection so that antibiotics won’t be needed. When antibiotic therapy is needed to treat this type of bacterial infection it is important to take as directed for as long as prescribed to avoid a worse infection.
There are some side effects of antibiotics, which can be managed.
Using Antibiotics For Treatment
The most common, wide spectrum of antibiotics is successful in treating cellulitis, which is a bacterial infection of the skin and underlying tissue. The two most common bacteria that cause cellulitis are staphylococcus (staph) and streptococcus (strep). Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus can also cause cellulitis. The type of cellulitis bacteria that are causing the infection determines the antibiotic that is used to treat it. Some of the cellulitis antibiotic options include the following:
- Penicillin VK
Most antibiotic therapy will last for 7-10 days and the dosage directions should be followed to avoid a more serious infection like MRSA.
What about Antibiotic Side Effects
Yeast infections are the most common side effect of antibiotics. The risk can be reduced with products (yogurt, supplements, milk, etc.) that contain live acidophilus. More serious side effects can include the throat swelling shut and an increased risk of MRSA. All side effects should be monitored by a healthcare professional. Side effects include the following:
- Swelling of the throat, tongue, or lips
- Digestive problems
- Yeast infection
- Shortness of breath
Antibiotics can interact with other medications so the prescribing doctor should be aware of all the medications that are being taken. Some supplements may also have a negative interaction with some antibiotics, so your doctor will need to be aware of anything that you are taking. Some side effects may be tolerated when there are not alternative treatments available.
Aggressive Antibiotics Because Of MRSA
Usually, cellulitis is easily treated and doesn’t cause any cellulitis complications. Occasionally bacteria that are causing the infection don’t respond to treatment and MRSA tests will be done. If they are positive, different antibiotics will be necessary. Antibiotics taken for any type of cellulitis can cause side effects.
A break in the skin can cause the bacteria to enter the body and spread to other parts of the body, which can become serious. When there are symptoms of cellulitis it should be treated promptly and in the case of an MRSA infection, it will need to be treated aggressively with antibiotics.
Cellulitis is effectively treated with antibiotics and will generally clear up without complications. MRSA cellulitis is a little more stubborn and will need more careful monitoring to avoid it spreading.
As soon as you suspect something may be wrong, or you may have cellulitis, seek medical assistance. If you do have a skin infection, you will be given antibiotics. Mild cases of cellulitis can be treated with an oral prescription of antibiotics, while severe cases will require hospitalization. Fortunately, cellulitis has an excellent rate of recovery, just like most infections, so long as it is detected and treated quickly. Be responsible for your health, and follow through on any concerns you may have as soon as possible. Learn more about cellulitis and how to stay safe here.