Cellulitis is caused by bacteria. The bacteria may normally live on top of the skin or come from other sources. It enters the skin through a cut or injury on the skin surface. Once inside the skin, the bacteria can grow and cause infection.
Things that increase the risk of cellulitis are:
An injury to the skin such as:
- A cut, scratch, puncture, or bite
- A blisterburn, or skin ulcer
- Skin cracks or splits, such as between the toes
Skin conditions, such as:
- Intertrigo—irritation in folds of the skin
- Athlete's foot
- IV drug use
- Having certain conditions, such as diabetes or obesity
- Blood vessel problems, such as venous insufficiency or peripheral artery disease (PAD)
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Symptoms may be:
- Fever and chills
- Skin that is:
- Red and feels hot
- Painful or tender
- Streaked—redness is spreading
- Fast heartbeat or fast breathing
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may diagnose cellulitis based on how the skin looks. The outer edge of the redness may be marked. This will help to see if the infection spreads.
The doctor may also do blood tests. Fluid from the area may also be tested. This is to find out what bacteria is causing the problem.
The goal is to get rid of the infection and manage pain. Treatment may last 5 to 10 days. Most cellulitis will clear up after 1 to 2 weeks of treatment.
Hospital care may be needed for:
- Severe cellulitis
- Diabetes or a weak immune system
- An infection on the face
Treatment may be:
- Medicine, such as:
- Antibiotics—to clear the infection
- Antifungals, by mouth or applied to the skin—for fungal infections
- Pain medicine
- Supportive care, such as:
- Keeping the area raised—to help move fluids out and speed healing
- Protecting the skin—keeping the area clean and bandaged
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
Edits to original content made by Denver Health.
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