What is Cellulitis?

By  , Expert Content
Jan 17, 2013

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Cellulitis is a type of skin infection, which involves the deeper layers of the skin and the underlying tissue. It is caused by a wide range of causes, but infection with bacteria called group A streptococcus and staphylococcus are the most common cause. People of all age groups (right from children to elderly) can get affected by cellulitis.

What causes cellulitis?

Cellulitis is caused when the normally harmless bacteria (or sometimes fungi) that are present on the skin move down through the skin’s surface and into the dermis and subcutis. This may occur through damaged or broken area of skin such as a cut, burn or bite.

If you have a skin condition such as eczema or a fungal infection of the foot or toenails (athlete’s foot), which can cause small breaks and cracks in the surface of the skin, the risk of developing cellulitis is increased.

Some factors that increase the risk of cellulitis include:

  • weak immune system (immune system is the body’s natural defence against infection and illness) because of any reason (such as HIV or diabetes or as a side-effect of a treatment such as chemotherapy),
  • lymphoedema (in this condition, swelling occurs in the arms and legs because of collection of fluid in tissues). It may occur spontaneously or after a surgery for some types of cancer and
  • Intravenous drug abuse (injecting drugs such as heroin).


Symptoms of cellulitis

Signs and symptoms of cellulitis at the affected site include:

  • redness (as the infection increases the redness gets bigger),
  • pain or tenderness,
  • warm skin and
  • swollen, tight, glossy, "stretched" appearance of the skin.

General signs and symptoms of cellulitis include:

  • fever with chills or shaking,
  • fatigue or tiredness,
  • general ill feeling (malaise),
  • muscle aches and pains,
  • nausea and vomiting,
  • warm skin and
  • sweating.

Treatment of cellulitis

Antibiotics are the primary treatment for cellulitis. They may be given orally or by intravenous route. You will be prescribed a seven-day course of antibiotic tablets if signs and symptoms are mild and you are not very sick. Penicillin group of antibiotics such as amoxicillin, ampicillin or flucloxacillin are the most commonly prescribed antibiotic for cellulitis. If your symptoms are severe or there are symptoms suggestive of spread of infection to other parts of the body, you will be admitted to hospital for treatment and will be given antibiotics directly into your vein through an injection or a drip (known as intravenous antibiotics).


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