Skip to Content

Cellulitis in Children



is a skin infection caused by bacteria. Cellulitis is common and can become severe. Cellulitis usually appears on your child's lower legs. It can also appear on his or her arms, face, and other areas. Cellulitis develops when bacteria enter a crack or break in your child's skin, such as a scratch, bite, or cut.


Common signs and symptoms:

Signs and symptoms usually appear on one side of your child's body. Your child may have any of the following:

  • A fever
  • A red, warm, swollen area on your child's skin
  • Pain when the area is touched
  • Red spots, bumps, or blisters that may drain pus
  • Bumpy, raised skin that feels like an orange peel

Seek care immediately if:

  • Your child's wound gets larger and more painful.
  • You feel a crackling under your child's skin when you touch it.
  • Your child has purple dots or bumps on his or her skin.
  • You see red streaks coming from your child's infected area.

Call your child's doctor if:

  • The red, warm, swollen area gets larger.
  • Your child's fever or pain does not go away or gets worse.
  • The area does not get smaller after 3 days of antibiotics.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.


You should start to see improvement in your child's symptoms in 3 days. If your child's cellulitis is severe, he or she may need IV antibiotics in the hospital. If cellulitis is not treated, the infection can spread through your child's body and become life-threatening. Your child may need any of the following medicines:

  • Antibiotics help treat the bacterial infection.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to give your child and how often to give it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines your child uses to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your child's doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him or her. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child's healthcare provider.
  • Do not give aspirin to children under 18 years of age. Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen.
  • Give your child's medicine as directed. Contact your child's healthcare provider if you think the medicine is not working as expected. Tell him or her if your child is allergic to any medicine. Keep a current list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs your child takes. Include the amounts, and when, how, and why they are taken. Bring the list or the medicines in their containers to follow-up visits. Carry your child's medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Manage your child's symptoms:

  • Help your child wash the area with soap and water every day. Gently pat dry. Use bandages if directed by your child's healthcare provider.
  • Elevate (raise) the area above the level of your child's heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop the area on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.
    Elevate Leg (Child)
  • Place a cool, damp cloth on the area. Use clean cloths and clean water. Cool, damp cloths may help decrease pain.
  • Help your child apply cream or ointment as directed. These help protect the area. Most over-the-counter products, such as petroleum jelly, are good to use. Ask your child's healthcare provider about specific creams or ointments to use.

Prevent cellulitis:

  • Remind your child to not scratch bug bites or areas of injury. Your child increases his or her risk for cellulitis by scratching these areas.
  • Do not let your child share personal items, such as towels, clothing, and razors.
  • Treat athlete's foot or any other skin condition. This can help prevent the spread of a bacterial skin infection.
  • Have your child wear protective gear during sports. Some examples include knee or elbow pads, and a helmet.
  • Have your child wash his or her hands often. Make sure he or she washes with soap and water after using the bathroom or sneezing. He or she also needs to wash his or her hands before eating. Use lotion to prevent dry, cracked skin.

Follow up with your child's doctor within 3 days or as directed:

He or she will check if your child's cellulitis is getting better. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your child's visits.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2021 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Cellulitis in Children (Ambulatory Care)

Associated drugs

IBM Watson Micromedex

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.