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What is cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a skin infection caused by bacteria.

What increases my risk for cellulitis?

  • An injury that breaks the skin, such as a bite, scratch, or cut
  • A foreign object under the skin
  • Shared belongings, such as towels or exercise equipment
  • Drugs that are injected
  • A weak immune system

What are the signs and symptoms of cellulitis?

  • Fever
  • A red, warm, swollen area on your skin
  • Pain when the area is touched
  • Bumps or blisters (abscess) that may drain pus
  • Bumpy, raised skin that feels like an orange peel

How is cellulitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider may know you have cellulitis by looking at and feeling your skin. Tell him how long you have had symptoms, and if anything helps decrease your symptoms. Tell him if you have ever had a cellulitis infection. You also may need any of the following tests:

  • Blood tests may show which bacteria is causing your infection.
  • A sample of fluid from one of your sores may show what kind of germ is causing your infection.
  • A sample of tissue from your infected skin may show what germ is causing your infection. The sample may also show if your infection is caused by another kind of skin disorder.
  • An x-ray, ultrasound, CT, or MRI may show if the infection has spread. You may be given contrast liquid to help the infection show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is cellulitis treated?

Treatment may decrease symptoms, stop the infection from spreading, and cure the infection. You may need any of the following:

  • Medicines help treat the bacterial infection or decrease pain.
  • Abscess drainage may be needed to help clean out the infection.
  • Debridement is a procedure used to cut away damaged, dead, or infected tissue to help the wounds heal.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Elevate your wound above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your wound on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.
  • Clean your wound as directed. You may need to wash the wound with soap and water. Look for signs of infection.

How can I prevent cellulitis?

  • Do not share personal items, such as towels, clothing, and razors.
  • Clean exercise equipment with germ-killing cleaner before and after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and water. Wash your hands after you use the bathroom, change a child's diapers, or sneeze. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food. Use lotion to prevent dry, cracked skin.
  • Wear pressure stockings as directed. The stockings are tight and put pressure on your legs. This improves blood flow and decreases swelling.
  • Treat athlete's foot. This can help prevent a bacterial skin infection.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your wound gets larger and more painful.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have a thin, gray-brown discharge coming from your infected skin area.
  • You feel a crackling under your skin when you touch it.
  • You have purple dots or bumps on your skin, or you see bleeding under your skin.
  • You have new swelling and pain in your legs.
  • You have sudden trouble breathing or chest pain.
  • The red, warm, swollen area gets larger.
  • You see red streaks coming from the infected area.
  • You feel weak and dizzy.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

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

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. 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 Truven Health Analytics.