Cellulitis is a common skin condition caused by an infection of the deeper layers of the skin and the underlying tissue by bacteria. Severity of infection can vary from mild to severe. In severe cases, the infection can spread to blood. As most cases of cellulitis are caused by bacteria, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic. Antibiotics can be given via mouth (orally) or intravenously (as an injection into a vein). You may be treated at home or be admitted in the hospital. Treatment plan is influenced by factors such as your general state of health and the severity of your symptoms.
Treatment of cellulitis
Your doctor will prescribe medications (antibiotics as tablets or syrup) to be taken orally at home if:
If you have severe infection or signs and symptoms suggestive of spread of infection to other parts of the body, admission to hospital may be recommended.
Treatment at home
Antibiotics are the primary treatment for cellulitis. You will be prescribed a seven-day course of antibiotic tablets.
Penicillin group of antibiotics such as amoxicillin, ampicillin or flucloxacillin are the most commonly prescribed antibiotics for cellulitis. Common side-effects of these antibiotics include mild digestive problems such as an upset stomach or episodes of diarrhoea. If you are allergic to penicillin group of antibiotics, an alternative antibiotic known as erythromycin or azithromycin may be used. Side-effects of erythromycin are also mild and short-lived. Some common side-effects of erythromycin include nausea, abdominal (tummy) discomfort, vomiting and diarrhoea.
If you have been in fresh or salt water lately and cellulitis is suspected because of contamination of a wound in your skin by contaminated water, you will be given a combination of two different antibiotics. The commonly prescribed combination includes doxycycline or ciprofloxacin in combination with flucloxacillin or erythromycin.
In the first 48 hours after starting the antibiotics, you may notice that the skin becomes redder. This is a temporary reaction in most cases and the redness and other symptoms start to decrease by 48 hours. If your symptoms do not show any improvement by 48 hours after taking the antibiotics or you develop other symptoms such as fever, nausea and vomiting, consult your doctor.
Self-care for cellulitis
Care at home can ease your symptoms and speed up your recovery. Self care measures for cellulitis include:
Treatment at hospital
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 a hospital for treatment. In the hospital, you will be given antibiotics directly into your vein through an injection or a drip (known as intravenous antibiotics). Most people are given a broad-spectrum antibiotic (a type of antibiotic that can kill a range of different strains of bacteria).
If your symptoms improve and you do not have any factor that increases the risk of complications, you may be discharged after 48 hours. You will be advised to complete the treatment with oral antibiotic. If this is not the case, you will be given intravenous antibiotics for a few more days before switching over to antibiotic tablets.