Skip to Content



What is cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a skin infection caused by bacteria. Cellulitis usually appears on the legs and feet, arms and hands, or face.


What increases my risk for cellulitis?

  • An injury that breaks the skin, such as a bite, scratch, or cut
  • Sores or injuries exposed to hot tub water or water in ponds, streams, or oceans
  • Shared belongings, such as towels or exercise equipment
  • Drugs that are injected
  • A weak immune system or diabetes
  • Lymphedema, chronic venous insufficiency, peripheral vascular disease, or deep vein thrombosis

What are the signs and symptoms of cellulitis?

  • 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 or her how long you have had symptoms, and if anything helps decrease your symptoms. Tell your healthcare provider if you have ever had a cellulitis infection. He or she may not know which kind of bacteria caused your cellulitis. You may need any of the following tests:

  • Blood tests may show which kind of bacteria is causing your infection. Blood tests may also show if the infection is in your blood.
  • A sample of tissue or fluid from your infected skin may show what 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. Treatment depends on how severe your cellulitis is. Cellulitis may go away on its own. You may instead need antibiotics to help treat the bacterial infection. Your healthcare provider may draw a circle around the edges of your cellulitis. If your cellulitis spreads, your healthcare provider will see it outside of the circle.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Elevate the area above the level of your 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.

How can I prevent cellulitis?

  • Do not scratch bug bites or areas of injury. You increase your risk for cellulitis by scratching these areas.
  • 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. You may be told to wear the stockings if you have peripheral edema. Peripheral edema is swelling in your legs. The stockings improve blood flow and decrease swelling.
  • Treat athlete's foot. This can help prevent the spread of a bacterial skin infection.

Call 911 if:

  • You have sudden trouble breathing or chest pain.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your wound gets larger and more painful.
  • 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.
  • The red, warm, swollen area gets larger.
  • You see red streaks coming from the infected area.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • Your fever or pain does not go away or gets worse.
  • The area does not get smaller after 2 days of antibiotics.
  • 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 healthcare providers 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.

Ā© Copyright IBM Corporation 2018 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 CareNotesĀ® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Further information

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

Learn more about Cellulitis

Associated drugs

Micromedex® Care Notes

Symptoms and treatments

Mayo Clinic Reference