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Cellulitis in Children


Cellulitis is a bacterial infection that affects the skin and tissues beneath the skin. The infection can happen in any part of your child's body. The most common areas are the arms, legs, and face. Your child's healthcare provider may draw a circle around the edges of his or her cellulitis. If your child's cellulitis spreads, his or her healthcare provider will see it outside of the circle.



Call 911 if:

  • Your child has sudden trouble breathing or chest pain.

Seek care immediately if:

  • The infected area gets larger and more painful.
  • Your child has a thin, gray-brown discharge coming from the infected skin area.
  • Your child has purple dots or bumps on his or her skin, or you see bleeding under the skin.
  • Your child has new swelling and pain in his or her legs.
  • The red, warm, swollen area gets larger.
  • You see red streaks coming from the infected area.

Contact your child's healthcare provider if:

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child's fever or pain does not go away or gets worse.
  • The area does not get smaller after 2 days of antibiotics.
  • Your child's skin is flaking or peeling off.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.


  • Medicines may be given to help treat the bacterial infection or to decrease pain.
  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen: These medicines are given to decrease your child's pain and fever. They can be bought without a doctor's order. Ask how much medicine is safe to give your child, and how often to give it.
  • 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:

  • Elevate 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.
  • Clean the area daily until the wound scabs over. Gently wash the area with soap and water. Pat dry. Use dressings as directed.
  • Place cool or warm, wet cloths on the area as directed. Use clean cloths and clean water. Leave it on the area until the cloth is room temperature. Pat the area dry with a clean, dry cloth. The cloths may help decrease pain.

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.
  • Protect your child's skin. Have your child wear equipment made for a sport he or she is playing. For example, have him or her wear knee and elbow pads when skating, and a bicycle helmet when riding a bike. Make sure your child wears shirts and pants that will protect his or her skin, and sturdy shoes.
  • Wash any scrapes or wounds with soap and water. Put on antibiotic cream or ointment, and cover it with a bandage. Check for signs of infection, such as pus or swelling, each time you change the bandage.
  • Do not let your child share personal items, such as towels, clothing, and razors.
  • 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.
  • Treat athlete's foot or any other skin condition. This can help prevent a bacterial skin infection by lessening the itching and breaks in the skin.

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

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your child's visits.

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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.

Further information

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

Learn more about Cellulitis in Children (Discharge Care)

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