Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of your skin and the tissue beneath your skin. Anyone can get cellulitis, but the risk is higher if you have a skin wound that allows bacteria to enter your body easily or a weakened immune system. Treatment includes antibiotics. A warm compress, elevation, compression and NSAIDs also help relieve your symptoms.
Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of your skin and the tissues beneath your skin. It most commonly affects the lower part of your body, including your legs, feet and toes. However, it can occur in any part of your body. It also commonly appears on your face, arms, hands and fingers.
Anyone can get cellulitis. However, you may be more likely to get cellulitis if:
Cellulitis is very common. There are more than 14 million cases of cellulitis in the United States per year.
Cellulitis causes swelling and pain. If you have cellulitis on your hands or feet, it may be challenging to close your hands or walk.
A cellulitis infection may cause flu-like symptoms, including a fever higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), chills, sweats, body aches and fatigue.
Symptoms of cellulitis may include:
Many different bacteria can cause cellulitis. However, Streptococcus (strep) and Staphylococcus (staph) cause most cases of cellulitis.
Cellulitis usually appears around damaged skin, but it also occurs in areas of your skin with poor hygiene.
You can maintain good skin hygiene by:
When you first get cellulitis, your skin looks slightly discolored. It may feel slightly warm to the touch. As the infection spreads, the discoloration gets darker as your skin swells and becomes tender.
Cellulitis isn’t usually contagious. Though rare, you may be able to contract cellulitis if you have an open wound and have skin-to-skin contact with an infected person’s open wound.
To diagnose cellulitis, your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and perform a physical examination of the affected area.
In most cases, your healthcare provider won’t conduct any tests. However, if you’ve got a severe case of cellulitis, your healthcare provider may recommend tests to make sure the infection hasn’t spread to other parts of your body.
These tests may include:
Severe cases of cellulitis may not respond to oral antibiotics. You may require hospitalization and intravenous (IV) antibiotics — your healthcare provider will use a small needle and tube to deliver the antibiotics directly into a vein.
The fastest way to get rid of cellulitis is to take your full course of antibiotics. Some home treatments may help speed up the healing process.
Home treatments include:
In most cases, you should feel better within seven to 10 days after you start taking antibiotics.
You’ll notice signs that your cellulitis infection is healing a few days after starting antibiotics. Your pain will decrease, swelling will go down and any discoloration will begin to fade.
You can reduce your risk of developing cellulitis by:
With early diagnosis and treatment, the outlook for people with cellulitis is good. Most people feel better after seven to 10 days.
It’s very important to take cellulitis seriously and get treatment right away. Cellulitis can quickly progress and lead to more severe conditions. The bacteria could spread to your bloodstream (bacteremia) or heart (endocarditis), which may be fatal.
Call your healthcare provider if:
No, cellulitis doesn’t itch. However, your affected area may itch once your skin starts to heal.
Many people who get cellulitis again usually have skin conditions that don’t go away without treatment, such as athlete’s foot or impetigo. Poorly controlled diabetes may also contribute to repeat instances of cellulitis.
Approximately 33% of all people who have cellulitis get it again.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Cellulitis is a common skin condition that mostly affects children and people with wounds, chronic skin conditions or a weakened immune system. If you notice symptoms of cellulitis, talk to your healthcare provider right away. They’ll prescribe you an antibiotic to quickly clear up the bacterial infection and recommend home treatments to make you more comfortable.
To prevent cellulitis, be sure to practice proper hygiene. Clean any wounds with water and antibacterial soap and cover them with a clean bandage to reduce your risk of infection.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/18/2022.
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