What is cellulitis?

Cellulitis in children: Overview

Cellulitis is a skin infection caused by bacteria, most often strep or staph. It often occurs after a break in the skin from a scrape, cut, bite, or puncture. Or it can occur after a rash.

Cellulitis may be treated without doing tests to find out what caused it. But your doctor may do tests, if needed, to look for a specific bacteria, like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

The doctor has checked your child carefully. But problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a skin infection, usually caused by Streptococcus or Staphylococcus bacteria. Cellulitis usually develops after a break in the skin from a scrape, cut, bite, or puncture, or after a rash.

A doctor should evaluate symptoms that can occur with cellulitis, which may include:

  • Painful, red, hot, swollen skin that may crack, split, or weep fluid.
  • Red streaks extending from the red area toward the body (lymphangitis).
  • Fever and chills.
  • Drainage of pus.
  • Swollen glands.
  • General feeling of illness (malaise).

Facial cellulitis in children requires immediate medical attention to prevent potentially dangerous eye or brain infection. Cellulitis usually is treated with antibiotics, rest and elevation of the affected area, and warm compresses. Cellulitis may be more severe and require a hospital stay for people who have decreased blood flow (venous stasis), long-term swelling, diabetes, or an impaired immune system.

What are the symptoms of cellulitis?

At first, the infected area will be warm, red, swollen, and tender. If the infection spreads, you may have a fever, chills, and swollen lymph nodes.

Cellulitis can occur anywhere on the body. In adults, it often occurs on the legs, face, or arms. In children, it is most common on the face or around the anus.

How is cellulitis treated?

Cellulitis is treated with antibiotics. If the infection is mild, you may be able to take antibiotic pills at home.

If the infection is severe, you may need to be treated in a hospital so that you can get I.V. antibiotics directly into your bloodstream, along with any other care you may need.

Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions about medicine and skin care. To help with your recovery and to feel better:

  • Take all of your medicine as prescribed. Don't stop taking it just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Elevate the affected area to reduce swelling. Warm compresses may also help.
  • Use pain relievers as needed.

How can you help prevent cellulitis?

If you are at risk for cellulitis, you can take steps to help prevent it. If you've had cellulitis before, these steps may help prevent it from coming back.

  • Take good care of your skin. Keep it clean, and use lotion to prevent drying and cracking.
  • Check your feet and legs often. This is especially important if you have diabetes.
  • Treat any skin infection right away.
  • Ask your doctor if you need to take antibiotics or other medicine on a regular basis to prevent cellulitis.
  • If you have edema, ask your doctor about wearing compression stockings or sleeves.

How is cellulitis diagnosed?

Doctors are often able to diagnose cellulitis based on your symptoms and a physical exam. In most cases, you won't need further testing.

But tests sometimes may be done to find out what's causing your symptoms and to rule out other problems. For example, you may need blood tests, an ultrasound, or an imaging test such as a CT scan or an MRI.

How can you care for cellulitis?

  • Take your antibiotics as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Prop up the infected area on pillows to reduce pain and swelling. Try to keep the area above the level of your heart as often as you can.
  • If your doctor told you how to care for your wound, follow your doctor's instructions. If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice:
    • Wash the wound with clean water 2 times a day. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
    • You may cover the wound with a thin layer of petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, and a nonstick bandage.
    • Apply more petroleum jelly and replace the bandage as needed.
  • Be safe with medicines. Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.

To prevent cellulitis in the future

  • Try to prevent cuts, scrapes, or other injuries to your skin. Cellulitis most often occurs where there is a break in the skin.
  • If you get a scrape, cut, mild burn, or bite, wash the wound with clean water as soon as you can to help avoid infection. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
  • If you have swelling in your legs (edema), support stockings and good skin care may help prevent leg sores and cellulitis.
  • Take care of your feet, especially if you have diabetes or other conditions that increase the risk of infection. Wear shoes and socks. Do not go barefoot. If you have athlete's foot or other skin problems on your feet, talk to your doctor about how to treat them.

What is cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a common skin infection that happens when bacteria spread through the skin to deeper tissues. Most cases are mild and last several days to a couple of weeks. But cellulitis can sometimes progress to a more serious infection, causing severe illness that affects the whole body (sepsis) or other dangerous problems.

Treatment is needed to help control the infection and reduce symptoms.

Some people are at higher risk for cellulitis, such as those who have diabetes, a weakened immune system, or edema. They also tend to get sicker from cellulitis. And they are more likely to get cellulitis again.

Cellulitis: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs that your infection is getting worse, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.
  • You get a rash.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.