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What is Cellulitis and How Do You Treat It?

March 18, 2024

What is Cellulitis and How Do You Treat It?

There are more than 14 million cases of cellulitis in the United States each year, yet it’s a relatively unknown condition. What is cellulitis and how do you treat it? What causes cellulitis, and is it contagious? Find out the answers to these questions and more below.

What is Cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin and the tissue beneath it. Cellulitis is most frequently found in the lower parts of the body such as the feet, legs, and toes. However, cases are also commonly found on the face, arms, hands, and fingers. Cellulitis is most common in children, people with obesity, people with weakened immune systems, or people suffering from chronic skin conditions.

Cellulitis Symptoms

Cellulitis symptoms include pain, tenderness, and edema or swelling at the infected location. The skin will feel unusually warm or discolored and sometimes looks like a rash. The infected area may have a red, purple, or slightly darker than usual coloration to it. There may be fluid-filled blisters or a skin surface that looks lumpy or pitted, almost like the skin of an orange. People suffering from cellulitis may also experiencel fevers, chills, or fatigue.

The first signs of infection are the skin beginning to discolor and feeling slightly warm to the touch. As the infection spreads, the discoloration may grow darker as the skin swells and grows more tender.

What Causes Cellulitis?

Cellulitis is caused by a bacterial infection. A variety of bacteria can cause cellulitis, but most causes are linked to strains of Streptococcus (strep) and Staphylococcus (staph) bacteria.

You can reduce your risk of developing cellulitis by keeping any wounds or sores clean with antibacterial soap and water. Additionally, applying antibiotic ointment to wounds or sores will keep cellulitis from developing. Whenever possible, cover wounds or sores with bandages to prevent dirt or bacteria from entering the area. Refrain from touching or rubbing affected areas. Any deep cuts or puncture wounds should be examined and treated by a medical professional.

A common question and concern is whether cellulitis is contagious. Cellulitis is not contagious. In rare instances, cellulitis can spread between two people if there is skin-to-skin contact with an infected person’s open wound to another open wound, but this is not common.

Cellulitis Treatment

Cellulitis treatment will typically include a regiment of antibiotics prescribed by a healthcare provider. Typical antibiotics to treat cellulitus are dicloxacillin or cephalexin taken orally. In certain cases the cellulitis will not respond to oral antibiotic treatment. In these rare instances hospitalization and intravenously administered antibiotics are required.

Most cellulitis cases clear up with antibiotics treatment in seven to ten days. To aid the healing process there are some additional things you can do at home:

  • Apply a warm compress to the affected area to reduce swelling.
  • Keep the affected area elevated to lower blood pressure and improve blood flow.
  • Consider using a compression wrap or stocking to reduce swelling and improve blood flow. Be careful not to wrap it too tightly.
  • Over-the-counter, non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen can be taken to reduce pain.

Immediately call your healthcare provider if you notice an increase in swelling, discoloration, or pain. If your symptoms don’t begin to lesson after a few doses of antibiotics, let your healthcare provider know. Also, watch for signs of the cellulitis spreading to other areas of your body, and notify your healthcare provider right away if this occurs.

Get Your Cellulitis Treated at BASS Primary Care

While cellulitis is a common condition, it is an easily treatable one as well. If you think you are suffering from cellulitis consider a consultation with a trusted healthcare provider. If you’re in the Bay Area the medical professionals at BASS Primary Care can help. Located in Walnut Creek, California, BASS is proud to give the community quality medical services, care, and follow up. BASS’ board-certified medical experts are knowledgeable, friendly, professional, and here to help.

At BASS Primary Care Walk-in Clinic, it's Your Health, Your Schedule.