Cellulitis is an inflammation of connective tissues and skin. Both dermal and subcutaneous layers of the skin are affected. The inflammation may be isolated in a single small spot (localized) or it may be spread out over a large area (diffuse).
In some cases, the inflammation is localized initially but begins to spread, especially without treatment.
What are the causes and symptoms?
Although the names are similar, cellulitis has nothing to do with cellulite, a cosmetic condition in which dimpling forms beneath the skin due to underlying fat layers. The symptoms of cellulitis include redness of the skin, warmth to the touch, tenderness or pain in the area and swelling.
The skin will sometimes look bruised, depending on the cause. Red streaks may radiate from the point of infection, indicating the infection has entered the bloodstream. If this happens, a high temperature, sweating, shaking and other flu-like symptoms may be experienced.
When the lower leg is affected, the symptoms are similar to deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot in the leg. Tests may be done to rule out the more dangerous condition.
The inflammation of cellulitis is caused by an infection. The bacteria that normally live on the skin cause the infection. They typically enter the bloodstream through a cut, insect bite, blister or other wound. Cracks in the skin caused by excessive dryness can allow the bacteria to enter the skin’s deeper layers, the connective tissue and eventually the bloodstream.
The bacteria involved are usually Group A Streptococcus or Staphylococcus, more commonly referred to as Strep and Staph.
Although anyone can get this type of condition, and some people have an increased risk of getting a cellulitis skin infection. The elderly, those with a weakened immune system and diabetics have the greatest risk.
The risk among the elderly is sometimes due to living in a nursing home, where the infections are more common. A weakened immune system always increases the risk of infection. Poor circulation of blood and other fluids, as well as small amounts of nerve damage are the reasons that diabetics have a greater risk of infection than the general population.
What are the treatment options?
Treatments vary somewhat depending on the severity of the inflammation and the bacteria causing the infection. Antibiotics are always the first line of treatment.
Flucloxacillin or dicloxacillin are commonly prescribed for staph. Oral antibiotics such as ampicillin are commonly prescribed for strep. In some cases, doctors will prescribe both oral and injected antibiotics to cover both types of bacteria.
Along with taking their antibiotics, patients are advised to rest the affected area and keep it elevated. If the infection is large or has caused tissues to die, the dead tissue will be cut away.
It is important to start antibiotic therapy right away to prevent the infection from spreading. If you believe you may have cellulitis, you should see your doctor right away.