Learn About Cellulitis

What is the definition of Cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a common skin infection caused by bacteria. It affects the middle layer of the skin (dermis) and the tissues below. Sometimes, muscle can be affected.

Skin layers
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What are the alternative names for Cellulitis?

Skin infection - bacterial; Group A streptococcus - cellulitis; Staphylococcus - cellulitis

What are the causes of Cellulitis?

Staphylococcus and streptococcus bacteria are the most common causes of cellulitis.

Normal skin has many types of bacteria living on it. When there is a break in the skin, these bacteria can cause a skin infection.

Risk factors for cellulitis include:

  • Cracks or peeling skin between the toes
  • History of peripheral vascular disease
  • Injury or trauma with a break in the skin (skin wounds)
  • Insect bites and stings, animal bites, or human bites
  • Ulcers from certain diseases, including diabetes and vascular disease
  • Use of corticosteroid medicines or other medicines that suppress the immune system
  • Wound from a recent surgery
What are the symptoms of Cellulitis?

Symptoms of cellulitis include:

  • Fever with chills and sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Pain or tenderness in the affected area
  • Skin redness or inflammation that gets bigger as the infection spreads
  • Skin sore or rash that starts suddenly, and grows quickly in the first 24 hours
  • Tight, glossy, stretched appearance of the skin
  • Warm skin in the area of redness
  • Muscle aches and joint stiffness from swelling of the tissue over the joint
  • Nausea and vomiting
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What are the current treatments for Cellulitis?

You will likely be prescribed antibiotics to be taken by mouth. You may be given pain medicine as well, if needed.

At home, raise the infected area higher than your heart to reduce swelling and speed up healing. Rest until your symptoms improve.

You may need to stay in a hospital if:

  • You are very sick (for example, you have a very high temperature, blood pressure problems, or nausea and vomiting that does not go away)
  • You have been on antibiotics and the infection is getting worse (spreading beyond the original pen marking)
  • Your immune system is not working well (due to cancer, HIV)
  • You have an infection around your eyes
  • You require antibiotics through a vein (IV)
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What is the outlook (prognosis) for Cellulitis?

Cellulitis usually goes away after taking antibiotics for 7 to 10 days. Longer treatment may be needed if cellulitis is more severe. This may occur if you have a chronic disease or your immune system is not working properly.

People with fungal infections of the feet may have cellulitis that keeps coming back, especially if you have diabetes. Cracks in the skin from the fungal infection allow the bacteria to get into the skin.

What are the possible complications of Cellulitis?

The following may result if cellulitis isn't treated or treatment doesn't work:

  • Blood infection (sepsis)
  • Bone infection (osteomyelitis)
  • Inflammation of the lymph vessels (lymphangitis)
  • Inflammation of the heart (endocarditis)
  • Infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (meningitis)
  • Shock
  • Tissue death (gangrene)
When should I contact a medical professional for Cellulitis?

Call your provider right away if:

  • You have symptoms of cellulitis
  • You are being treated for cellulitis and you develop new symptoms, such as persistent fever, drowsiness, lethargy, blistering over the cellulitis, or red streaks that spread
How do I prevent Cellulitis?

Protect your skin by:

  • Keeping your skin moist with lotions or ointments to prevent cracking
  • Wearing shoes that fit well and provide enough room for your feet
  • Learning how to trim your nails to avoid harming the skin around them
  • Wearing appropriate protective equipment when participating in work or sports

Whenever you have a break in the skin:

  • Clean the break carefully with soap and water. Apply petroleum jelly every day.
  • Cover with a bandage and change it every day.
  • Watch for redness, pain, drainage, or other signs of infection.
Cellulitis on the arm
Periorbital cellulitis
What are the latest Cellulitis Clinical Trials?
Safety and Efficacy of Sofwave Treatment for Improvement of Cellulite Appearance

Summary: Open-label, non-randomized, prospective, multi-center, self-controlled clinical study with masked evaluation.

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A Blinded, Non-inferiority Phase III Trial of 5 Versus 7 Days of Oral Flucloxacillin in Primary Care Patients With Lower Limb Cellulitis

Summary: To determine whether a short course of oral flucloxacillin (5 days) is non-inferior to a standard course (7 days) in terms of pain over days 6-14 (indicative of persistence or recurrence associated with the symptoms of most importance to patients) in adults with cellulitis of the leg presenting in primary care.

What are the Latest Advances for Cellulitis?
Safety and efficacy of continuous subcutaneous foslevodopa-foscarbidopa in patients with advanced Parkinson's disease: a randomised, double-blind, active-controlled, phase 3 trial.
Orbital cellulitis secondary to odontogenic superior maxillary sinus septum infection: a case report.
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Emergent Off-Label TAVR for Native Aortic Valve Endocarditis.
Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date: April 14, 2021
Published By: Elika Hoss, MD, Senior Associate Consultant, Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, AZ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

What are the references for this article ?

Dinulos JGH. Bacterial infections. In: Dinulos JGH, ed. Habif's Clinical Dermatology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 9.

Heagerty AHM, Harper N. Cellulitis and erysipelas. In: Lebwohl MG, Heymann WR, Berth-Jones J, Coulson IH, eds. Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 40.

Pasternack MS, Swartz MN. Cellulitis, necrotizing fasciitis, and subcutaneous tissue infections. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 93.