Cellulitis appears as a rash on the surface of your skin, but the infection goes deeper. To prevent complications, it is important to understand the causes, recognize the symptoms, and get treatment as soon as possible.

Causes of Cellulitis

Cellulitis is most often caused by streptococcal or staphylococcus bacteria that normally lives on your body but enters your system through a break in the skin. The break may be a result of a cut, a crack in dry or infected skin, an insect bite, radiation damage, skin ulcers, tattoo application, surgery, eczema, or other inflammatory skin conditions.

You are also at higher than average risk of developing cellulitis if you have:

  • Diabetes
  • An immune system disorder, or if your immune system is suppressed by the use of corticosteroid medications
  • A condition that affects your circulatory system, such as pregnancy, obesity, and venous insufficiency

Symptoms of Cellulitis

The trademark symptom of cellulitis is warm, red, painful, slightly firm or swollen rash that spreads over the surface of your skin. The rash comes on quickly and spreads quickly.  It can appear anywhere on your body, most often on the legs, arms, head or neck. The rash may blister and scab over. Additionally, you may experience...

  • Feeling fatigued, tired, and ill
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Swollen glands
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Sweats
  • Fever

Diagnosing Cellulitis

Call your doctor immediately if you have signs of cellulitis, especially if the rash appears on your face. In addition to personal history and physical examination of the rash, blood tests, and sometimes a skin biopsy, may be necessary to identify bacteria and help rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, such as dermatitis or deep vein thrombosis.

Treating Cellulitis

Cellulitis usually runs its course within a week to 10 days but can also recur if, for instance, you have chronic fungal infections that routinely cause your skin to crack or another underlying condition that makes you more susceptible to skin problems.

Treatments include:

  • Antibiotics to fight the infection and analgesic medication to fight the pain
  • If you have a severe case of cellulitis, or one that does not respond to medication, you may have to spend time in the hospital

If you have a condition that can put you at higher risk of developing cellulitis, ask your doctor what you can do to help prevent recurring infections.

Craig Kraffert, MD, reviewed this article.




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