Cellulitis is defined as a bacterial infection that attacks the deeper layers of the epidermis and the bottom layer of skin that contains subcutaneous tissues. It is condition that develops in both children and adults but will affect the generations differently. For instance, in children it is most likely to appear on the face and on the neck. In adults, it will appear more commonly on the lower legs. Current estimates show that about fourteen and half million people in the USA will develop Cellulitis.

Table of Contents:

  1. What is Cellulitis?
  2. Causes of Cellulitis?
  3. How do I reduce my risk of getting Cellulitis?
  4. How is Cellulitis diagnosed?
  5. Treatment for Cellulitis
  6. Complications from Cellulitis

What is Cellulitis?

A Doctor will literally define the condition as inflammation of the skin. It will show itself as a pink, deep pink, or red patch that can often feel warm, or hot to the touch and hard when pressed. It also causes the skin to feel tender when touched.

It can occur when there is a simple break or tear in the skin, or even something as simple as a burn. This can be something as inconspicuous as a minor scratch, or cut, or even an insect bite – basically any instance of a nick in the skin that could potentially occur bacteria to get in and penetrate. If you’re a generally healthy person, you’re less likely to contact Cellulitis, and it is more common in seniors or people who already have compromised immune systems from other health concerns. It is also more common in people that already suffer from other conditions that may cause breaks or tears in the skin, such as diabetes or being very overweight.

It is a condition that requires treatment via antibiotics taken orally. This is because it affects the deeper layers of the skin and not the top layers. Topical ointments and unguents would not work to get rid of the condition. It is important to get a proper medical diagnosis if Cellulitis is suspected. If it goes untreated and undetected it can spread to the lymph nodes and get into the bloodstream. In these cases the condition can become life threatening. Even if you only suspect you may have Cellulitis, you must seek diagnosis from a Doctor as soon as possible.

Causes of Cellulitis

Cellulitis is more often than not caused by overpopulation of certain types of bacteria on the skin, usually staphylococcus and streptococcus species that in most people live naturally in very small amounts on the surface of the epidermis, without causing too many problems. However, if then skin is nicked, cut or scratched vulnerable persons might find that these bacteria infect the cuts and get into the tissues beneath the skin thus causing an inflammatory response.

These two types of bacteria can also cause other skin problems such as pus filled spots or boils that form in hair follicles or oil glands. They can also cause impetigo which is another skin condition that causes red sores to form on the skin and is often common in schools, or in places where there are vulnerable adults or elderly people as it is spread by touch and can form rapidly amongst close groups of people in a short period of time.

In most normal, healthy people these types of bacteria can live harmlessly on skin and will simply be washed away when you take a shower or bathe and use good hygiene practices on a daily basis. It is when they come into contact with open wounds of any kind, that problems such as Cellulitis can occur.

It’s worth pointing out that many people do get cuts, nicks and wounds during the course of day to day living and never develop Cellulitis, there are some groups of people who are at a higher risk of contracting it. If you recognise any of these health concerns and think you may have the signs and symptoms of Cellulitis then speak to a health care professional as soon as you can.

Groups of People at Higher Risk of Contracting Hepatitis:

  • Groups of People Likely to Contracting Hepatitis
  • Advanced old age with impaired immune system
  • HIV or AIDs
  • Diabetes
  • If you take medication that will suppress your immune system
  • Cancer
  • If you take/inject illicit or illegal drugs
  • If you experience problems with impaired lymphatic drainage
  • If you are overweight or morbidly obese
  • Some skin conditions such as athlete’s foot and eczema can also cause breaks in the skin which allow for Cellulitis to form
  • If you have suffered from Cellulitis once, you’re automatically at an increased risk of developing it again.

    Is it possible to prevent Cellulitis?

    The best strategy to prevent Cellulitis, especially if you are at risk, is to practice good hygiene and prompt first aid as soon as a wound appears on the skin. No matter how minor the cut or scratch, cleaning and covering it straight away is the best and safest method of ensuring you’re lowering your chances of contracting Cellulitis.

    If you have a larger cut or wound (anything over a quarter of an inch or deeper) or there is a larger puncture – for example if you have stepped on a nail, or you have been bitten by an insect or got burned when you have been cooking a meal, seek proper medical attention, rather than trying to treat it yourself, and let the person treating you know that you may possibly be at an increased risk of getting Cellulitis due to other health concerns.

    Minor first aid treatments to guard against Cellulitis:

    1. Apply a clean, sterile cloth to the wound if it is bleeding. Apply the cloth with pressure.
    2. Carefully wash the wound to remove any dirt or debris. Warm soapy water is the safest option. If you aren’t near a water supply, use clean bottled water, or antiseptic wipes.
    3. If you cannot fully clean the wound or can see there is dirt still trapped in there, seek medical help to get it cleaned properly.
    4. Dry the wound with another clean, sterile cloth and apply a layer of topical ointment – though, so long as the wound is clean and dry, this last stage is optional.
    5. Cover the wound with a bandage.

    1. Change this daily until the wound heals.
    2. If you notice any sign of infection, then seek medical advice straight away.
    3. If you suffer from diabetes then extra care needs to be taken when cleaning skin wounds, especially if they occur on the feet. People with this condition are more prone to picking up bacterial infections. If you do have diabetes, make sure you check your feet every day for signs of redness, areas of warmth, signs of pressure or rubbing from shoes, blisters, or injuries of any type. Keep your feet well moisturized and your finger and toenails trimmed. If possible, seek regular podiatry appointments to make sure your feet are always clean and well looked after.

    How do I reduce my risk of getting Cellulitis?

    Keeping in general good health will naturally lower your risk of getting Cellulitis, but there are some underlying risk factors to think about such as:
    Losing weight sensibly, if you’re overweight or obeseStopping smoking
    Moderating levels of alcoholKeeping an eye on any wounds/cuts

    No matter how careful we are, sometimes Cellulitis can still occur. If you spot any of the following symptoms after dealing with a wound/cut or burn, then seek help immediately.

    An increase in painAn increase in rednessPus or oozing liquid from the wound
    SwellingFeeling tender at the site of the woundItching or burning

    Signs & Symptoms of Cellulitis

    Cellulitis can develop very rapidly and if left untreated, lead to serious consequences. It most commonly occurs in adults, in the legs. It will often appear in one leg only, and not both at the same time.

    The common Cellulitis symptoms are:

    SwellingRedness of the skinPainTenderness
    Skin that feels hot or warmFeverSpotsSkin that appears dimpled

    If you touch the infected area of skin you might feel hotness or pain. In some cases of the condition, some people develop signs of fatigue or get chills. Cases of Cellulitis that are severe may include the formation of blisters, pus filled spots and breakdown of the skin, also known as necrosis. A severe infection can result in illness, that causes symptoms such as nausea, tiredness, a fast heartbeat and a drop in blood pressure.

    Cellulitis will not go away on its own and does need to be treated by medical professionals.

    How is Cellulitis diagnosed?

    Examination of the skin by a Doctor is essential. Sometimes a health professional will wish to take blood tests to confirm 100%. There are other conditions that can mimic Cellulitis, or have the same symptoms. These include contact dermatitis, eczema, reactions to insect bites, shingles, deep vein thrombosis or gout. This is why proper examination by a health professional is necessary in order that the right condition is diagnosed and the right treatment given.

    Cellulitis can sometimes also share some common symptoms with necrotizing fasciitis, this is a bacterial infection in which tissue beneath the skin gets destroyed very quickly. It’s also important, for this reason, that a diagnosis and treatment is sought as soon as possible.

    Treatment for Cellulitis

    Cellulitis usually responds very quickly to treatment. Your Doctor may give a course of antibiotics which lasts anything up to two weeks. Once these begin to work, symptoms should abate and you should start to notice improvements and feel better again. Even if you’re starting to feel better it’s important that you continue to take any medications prescribed for the full course. The length of treatment you will be given depends on how severe your infection is.

    If your symptoms worsen or do not get better after treatment, you must go to ER for further help and advice!

    In most cases of Cellulitis, antibiotics are given in oral form. Severe cases of the condition may need intravenous antibiotics which may require an inpatient stay in hospital. Patients being treated for Cellulitis in hospital will usually stay in for one week. When taking antibiotics for Cellulitis, your symptoms should improve very soon, and not get worse. If, after three days, you don’t feel any better, go back to see your Doctor for more advice.

    In cases of Cellulitis that recur, Doctors may prescribe a low dose antibiotic to be taken long term in order to prevent further flare ups. If you continue to experience problems with Cellulitis, you may be referred to an infectious disease specialist who will be able to determine the root cause of the illness and what can be done to treat it further.

    Complications from Cellulitis

    Occasionally, complications from Cellulitis can occur, or if the condition is left untreated, other medical conditions can flare up.

    These Cellulitis Complications Are:

    Infection of the tissues in the heart chamber (otherwise known as Infective Endocarditis)Kidney infectionLymph Node infection

    Go to your Doctor or visit ER if you think you have any of the signs or symptoms of Cellulitis. Take any medication as prescribed and don’t stop any courses of medication early. If your symptoms don’t improve after three days, make another appointment to see your Doctor. Make sure you rest enough and keep well hydrated, as well as sticking to a healthy, balanced diet.

    Myths and misconceptions about Cellulitis

    It’s only caused by cuts or open wounds

    Not so, conditions such as eczema, athlete’s foot, and even a bug bite can open the door to Cellulitis and make some people more prone to getting it than others.

    A tattoo isn’t a risk factor when considering Cellulitis

    Unfortunately, tattoos are considered to be a skin wound and therefore can increase your risk of getting Cellulitis.

    If I’ve had Cellulitis and been treated, I won’t get it again – I’m immune

    No, you’re not. People who have had Cellulitis and been treated for it, unfortunately have a higher risk of contracting it again.

    It’s better to leave skin cuts and wounds to heal naturally and not cover them…

    In cases of Cellulitis, no. Wounds need prompt first aid and regular care to make sure they heal quickly and don’t become infected. This is also important if you’re already suffering from the condition, or have other health conditions that are associated with Cellulitis.

    I don’t need to see a Doctor, I can treat Cellulitis at home

    No. You need to be properly diagnosed by a trained medical professional in order to make sure you do have Cellulitis and not another condition. You also need to make sure you get the right treatment for it and take it as prescribed.

    I can pass Cellulitis on to other people

    Cellulitis is not normally contagious. Other skin conditions that may be confused with the condition, such as impetigo, are contagious and can be transferred.

    It’s not life threatening – so chill out! It’s just a wound infection…

    Unchecked and untreated, it can pass into the bloodstream and potentially be life threatening, so if you think you have the condition, seek medical help as soon as you can.

    Cellulitis is just like Cellulite…

    No. They are two very different things! Cellulite is a largely cosmetic concern which rarely needs medical treatment. It is not an infection and has no medical risks attached to it.

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