A common but serious bacterial infection called cellulitis starts as a red, swollen area of skin that spreads quickly. Where impetigo, a superficial infection, only affects the top layer of skin, the cellulitis infection also involves the dermis and subcutaneous tissue, deeper layers of skin. Usually cellulitis only occurs on the legs but it can occur anywhere on the body.
Cellulitis may develop only on the skin’s surface but it can also spread to the lymph nodes and bloodstream. Because cellulitis can quickly become life-threatening, get treatment immediately if you develop symptoms of the infection or fever.
Two common bacteria, streptococcus and staphylococcus, often produce cellulitis. These bacteria enter through a crack or break in the skin, like cuts, puncture wounds and ulcers. Certain insect and spider bites can spread cellulitis. People with diabetes, anyone suffering from eczema, the elderly, pregnant women and those who are obese have a higher risk of contracting cellulitis.
If you experience the following signs, contact your physician immediately:
- Rash that feels warm
The cellulitis infection responds well to oral antibiotics. Most providers prescribe a 10 to 14 day course. Your doctor will probably schedule a follow-up appointment for one to three days after you began taking the medication to make sure the cellulitis has started to heal. Take the antibiotic as directed and finish all doses of the medicine. If the cellulitis does not respond to the oral medication or if the illness is widespread, hospitalization and intravenous medication may be necessary.
Take good care of your skin and any damage to it by:
- Moisturizing your skin often
- Promptly treating any cuts, bites, or superficial infections such as athlete’s foot
- Washing any sores daily and applying antibiotic ointment
- Watching for signs of infection