Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and the layer of tissue under the skin.

What is going on in the body?

Cellulitis most often develops on the legs but can be seen on the face and on anyother skin on the body. It tends to affect a fairly large area of skin.Cellulitis is usually due to an infection of the skin with bacteria, but it mayalso be caused by a fungus.

What are the causes and risks of the infection?

Cellulitis is usually caused by a break in the skin that becomes infected withbacteria or fungi. It can occur in wounds caused by injury and in surgical wounds. It can also occur when there is no obvious break in the skin.

Risk factors for cellulitis include the following:

  • recent surgery
  • diabetes
  • recent chickenpoxinfection
  • immunodeficiencydisorder, in which the body’s infection-fighting mechanisms areimpaired. People with AIDS, for example, have a significant risk of cellulitis.
  • impaired circulation, such as peripheral arterial disease, which limits blood flow to the legsand arms
  • chronic use of steroids
  • Symptoms & Signs

    What are the signs and symptoms of the infection?

    Cellulitis may cause:

  • skin redness
  • pain and tenderness of the skin
  • increased warmth of the skin
  • skin swelling
  • fever
  • Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the infection diagnosed?

    Diagnosis of cellulitis begins with a medical history and physical examination. Thereis no single test that can confirm the diagnosis. In some cases, blood tests andspecial X-ray tests may be used to make sure a deeper, moreserious infection is not present.

    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the infection?

    Prevention of cellulitis starts with good hygiene. Any breaks in the skin, suchas cuts, bites, or scratches, should be cleaned with soap and water beforeapplying a bandage. The area should be kept clean until the skin has healedover.

    People with diabetes need tobe careful with wounds to their feet or legs. Diabetes causes nerve damage, known as neuropathy,which can result in a lack of feeling in the legs and feet.Because people with diabetes may not be aware of a foot injury, they shouldinspect their feet daily for any cuts or abnormal areas. Diabetes also causespoor circulation, which means wounds do not heal well. As a result, cellulitis ismore difficult to treat in people with diabetes.

    What are the long-term effects of the infection?

    If cellulitis is not treated, it can get worse. Some cases can develop into deeper,more serious infections of the tissue under the skin. This can lead to seriouseffects, including loss of a limb and even death. Many cases of foot and legamputation in people withdiabetes start out ascellulitis.

    What are the risks to others?

    Cellulitis is not contagious and poses no risk to others.

    Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the infection?

    For mild, superficial infections, oral antibiotics, such as cephalexin ordicloxacillin, are often used. Over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, canbe used as needed to relieve discomfort. For more severe infections,individuals may need intravenous (IV) antibiotics, such as oxacillin ornafcillin.

    Cellulitis may get worse even with treatment, especially in people withdiabetes. In these cases,more aggressive treatment may be needed. This may include surgery to removedead skin or even bone.

    What are the side effects of the treatments?

    Antibiotics and over-the-counter pain medications may cause upset stomach, rash, or allergic reactions. Surgery may causebleeding, new infections, or allergicreaction to anesthesia.

    What happens after treatment for the infection?

    In most cases, cellulitis goes away after treatment. If treatment issuccessful, people can usually return to normal activities.

    How is the infection monitored?

    The healthcare provider will examine the area of cellulitis regularly to assesshealing. In some cases, special X-ray tests may be used if a deeper infectionis suspected. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to thehealthcare provider.

    Article type: xmedgeneral