Cellulitis is a spreading infection of the skin and the tissues beneath it.
Cellulitis is caused by staphylococcus or streptococcus bacteria.
Risk factors for getting cellulitis
Anyone can get cellulitis, as it occurs when a break in the protective barrier of the skin provides the opportunity for bacterial infection. This could be caused by something as simple as an insect bite or a scratch while gardening. People with conditions that cause cracks and breaks in the skin, such as eczema, athlete’s foot, lymphoedema or venous leg ulcers, are known to be at an increased risk. Likewise, intravenous drug use or the use of cannulae or other medical devices that pierce the skin can also cause the condition.
A weakened immune system (which could be caused by chemotherapy, immunosuppressant medication or conditions such as poorly controlled diabetes), can also increase the risk of developing cellulitis, since the body is less able to fight infection.
Cellulitis starts with a red, painful, hot, swollen and tender area of skin that will gradually spread without treatment. Blistering may occur. A general feeling of being unwell and/or tiredness may come before or at the same time as the skin symptoms.
Cellulitis needs treatment with antibiotics at the earliest opportunity to kill the bacteria responsible. Antibiotics may be given orally if the infection is mild, or may require hospital admission and intravenous administration if severe. Any compression garments that are worn on the affected area should be removed until the infection is under control, then reapplied, according to your healthcare professional’s instructions.
Cellulitis can be a recurring problem as simply having one episode increases the risk of it happening again. Recurrence is particularly common in patients with venous insufficiency and lymphoedema, because of the fragility of the skin.
It is therefore important to keep skin healthy and in good condition to prevent breaks occurring. This means good skin care and maintaining the recommended compression regimen to promote wound healing and/or reduce any swelling present. Monitoring of the skin, regular moisturising and rapid treatment of any wounds, bites and scratches and areas of skin inflammation (eczema) should be carried out then monitored to ensure healing takes place.
Any manageable risk factors for cellulitis, e.g. uncontrolled diabetes, intravenous drug, or obesity, should be addressed if possible to help to reduce the risk of recurrence