Cellulitis

Overview

What is cellulitis?

Cellulitis is bacterial infection of the skin and the tissues beneath the skin. It can occur on any part of the body.

Is cellulitis contagious?

Cellulitis is not contagious.

Who gets cellulitis?

Anyone can get cellulitis, including children. Generally, a wound such as a cut, ulcer, animal bite, or surgical site puts a person at risk for cellulitis. Some people, however, particularly those with a weakened immune system, can get cellulitis without a cut or sore.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes cellulitis?

Cellulitis can be caused by many different bacteria. The most common organisms are group A streptococci and S. aureus. Cellulitis that develops in the setting of a chronic ulcer is often caused by a mix of bacterial species.

What are the symptoms of cellulitis?

An adult or child with cellulitis often notices prominent symptoms in the affected area. These symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Warmth
  • Fluid-filled blisters
  • Discharge

Cellulitis can also cause fevers and chills, which may be present before the local symptoms arise.

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor immediately.

What can I do for my child if he or she has cellulitis?

If your child has symptoms of cellulitis, take him or her to the doctor for a complete diagnosis and to prevent any complications. Other things you can do include the following:

  • Give your child all medicine as directed by the doctor.
  • Try to keep your child from touching the infected area.
  • Wash your hands before and after caring for the infected area.
  • Do not squeeze or puncture the area.
  • Use a warm compress on the affected area.
  • Keep the affected limb rested.
  • Call your doctor if you notice increased swelling, redness, or pain.

Do children need to be hospitalized for cellulitis?

Although cellulitis is easily diagnosed and usually treated with antibiotics, some children may need to be hospitalized. Your child's doctor may do blood work to test for blood poisoning. If your child is admitted to the hospital, his or her treatment may include:

  • Intravenous (IV) fluids and antibiotics
  • Warm compresses on the affected area
  • Resting or raising the affected area

How can I prevent my child from getting cellulitis?

  • Clean the wounds or sores with soap and water.
  • Use an antibiotic ointment and bandage to cover wounds.
  • Do not allow your child to rub or scratch the affected area.
  • Make sure your child wears protective clothing when outdoors or playing sports.
  • Get medical attention right away for any deep cuts or puncture wounds.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is cellulitis diagnosed?

Your doctor can usually diagnose cellulitis based on your symptoms and a visual inspection of your skin.

Questions to ask your child's doctor about cellulitis:

  • For how long and at what times of the day should I give my child medication, if any?
  • How should I store the medication? In the refrigerator?
  • When will my child start to feel better?
  • Will I need to bring my child back for a follow-up visit?
  • Should I keep my child home from school or day care?
  • From which activities should I limit my child?
  • Are certain foods or liquids more helpful?
  • Which over-the-counter pain relievers do you recommend?
  • Which over-the-counter medications/preparations are NOT recommended?
  • Which symptoms should I report to the doctor?

Management and Treatment

How is cellulitis treated?

Cellulitis is usually treated with antibiotics such as dicloxacillin or cephalexin. In most cases, these can be taken by mouth. More serious cases of cellulitis and those that do not resolve with oral antibiotics may require hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics.

Warm compresses can be applied to the affected area to reduce symptoms and irritation. Elevating the affected area can help reduce swelling.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the prognosis for cellulitis?

Cellulitis can usually be cured with a course of the appropriate antibiotic, especially if it is diagnosed and treated early.

It is very important to take cellulitis seriously and get prompt treatment. It can quickly progress and lead to more serious conditions such as bacteremia (when the bacteria spreads to the bloodstream) or endocarditis (when the bacteria infects the heart).

See your doctor right away if you notice any symptoms of cellulitis.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/24/2019.

References

  • American Academy of Dermatology. Cellulitis. Accessed 3/19/2019.
  • Bolognia J, Cerroni L, Schaffer, JV, eds. “Bacterial Diseases.” Dermatology. Philadelphia: Elsevier Saunders; 2018. 1259-1295.

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