Cellulitis is a condition of infected skin and the soft tissue lying beneath it. The infected area is warm to the touch, red, swollen and painful. Caused by bacteria that enters the body through a puncture, cut or wound, the infection spreads from the center of the sore forming large, red blotches.
A first case as well as a recurring case of cellulitis can be treated with antibiotics. However, it becomes fatal if it spreads to the lymph nodes or bloodstream.
Conditions and Symptoms
Cellulitis ranges from treatable to severe. It can appear just about anywhere on the body. The most common areas are feet, neck, head and shinbone. Feet are the most susceptible.
Common symptoms include:
- A puncture, wound, any open break in the skin
- A fast growing sore
- Shiny redness of skin at the infection site
- Streaks and large areas of red ‘stained’ skin
- Inflamed and dirty wounds
- Warm to the touch
- Poor circulation
- Tenderness, pain at the infected site
- Abscess leaking pus
- Swelling around the eyes
- Sores and skin rashes; itchy, painful, change the color or texture of the skin; fast growth within 24 hours
A severe case of cellulitis causes lightheadedness, lethargy, aching muscles and fever or chills. Additionally, nausea and vomiting.
Causes and Risks
The causes and risks are:
- Breaks in the skin; sores, punctures, cuts, surgery sites
- Diabetes especially when cuts, cracking or ulcers are not painful, but still subject to infection
- Blood glucose problems and poor control of them
- Advanced age
- Strep and staph causes infections on the face, no wounds present
- Weakened immune system from immunosuppressive drugs, HIV
- Chicken pox
- Burns, especially bleeding
- Blisters, possibly bleeding
- Recurs because of previous conditions
- Poor blood circulation, including during pregnancy
- Poor blood circulation coupled with disease, such as varicose veins and chronic venous
- Dental infections
- A bone infection
- Athlete’s foot
- Needles from injecting drugs
- Animal, spider or human bites
- Bee, wasp, etc. stings
- Dissecting cellulitis
- Outer ear infection
- Lymphedema, the chronic swelling of arms or legs; often happens after surgery
The list goes on but these are some commonly identified causes. Any break in the skin is at risk, along with poor health conditions. Patients who have previously suffered from cellulitis are predisposed to recurrences.
Emergency risk factors include soreness at the lymph nodes. And, if the infection grows down into the deeper layers of the skin tissue it promotes a flesh-eating bacterium.
Medically called 'necrotizing fasciitis' and commonly called 'gangrene', symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis are fever, shaking or sweating.
Other serious causes that exacerbate the condition and require immediate attention include:
1. Increasing pain
2. Increased pus
3. Growing abscess
4. Enlargement of the infected area
5. High fever and chills
6. Hearing loss
All cuts, scrapes, punctures, broken skin, and even something as small as a scratch or a cut from the manicurist should be treated immediately. And, the condition goes all the way up to a severe case that may require an ultrasound to locate abscesses or vein thrombosis in the body.
Following is some helpful advice in the treatment of cellulitis:
- Wash the wound with soap and water
- Moisturize to avoid further cracking of the skin
- Apply antibiotic creams such as Neosporin or any ointment that contains bacitracin
- If the wound is especially deep do not but a bacteria cream or ointment down into it; see a doctor
- Protect the wound with applications of Vaseline, polysporin and other similar protective substances
- Keep a bandage over the wound replace the bandage daily until a scab forms
- Keep all skin clean, but continually monitor the wound location for dirt or debris
- Continually wash hands
- Take pain killers from over the counter or prescribed by a doctor
- Rest, with the infected area raised higher than heart level if possible
- First and recurring conditions can be treated with oral antibiotics which start to show results within twenty-four to 48 hours
- No swimming until wound is cleared
- Definitely avoid activities that may cause cuts, scrapes and other skin related conditions
- Wear loose fitting clothes so as not to irritate infected area, or cause further chafing or pain
- Depending on severity, blood tests
- Cultures, if possible; used to identify bone infection or gangrene
- Drawing blood to check white cell count
- Drawing fluid from the wound for testing
- Cutting away of dead skin
- Diagnosing gangrene and any resolution
- Depending on the severity of an abscess surgical drainage
- Antibiotics and steroids are prescribed, possibly via IV
Emergency room action for acute cases of cellulitis such as:
- Increased spread of infection
- Hardening of infection area
- Infection on the hands
- No improvement after two to three days of the antibiotic regime
- Nausea, vomiting
- Chronic disease flareups, preexisting medical conditions
- Jeopardized immune system; interference with the cells that make up the immune system; works to protect the body from parasite, fungal, viral and bacterial infections
- Development of blackened area that is tender, warm and swollen
- Symptoms and swelling of the eyelids and eyes with loss of eyesight or movement
- Symptoms at the ear, including infections outside of the ear with possible hearing loss
- Any symptoms that develop on the face and around the nose; blood flows back into the skull via sinuses and respiratory tract
- Deep punctures in the hand, foot or in the joints
- Deep puncture from an animal bite
- Community acquired MRSA infections
There is a growing number of MSRA breakouts. MRSA is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. As a deadly strain of staph infection spreading throughout the community, it can be restrained by good personal hygiene.
The condition used to be linked to health facilities only. However, this ‘superbug’ has increasingly affected athletes, students and some military. Specifically, members of the military who can’t get immediate treatment.
Occurring in healthy people, MSRA is spread by skin-to-skin contact of wounds such as scrapes, cuts, blisters, and burns. It is also spread through poor hygiene and crowded living circumstances.
For instance, people at risk include those in military barracks, correction institutes, day care facilities, schools and dormitories. Additionally, high physical contact, such as sports.
It appears exactly like cellulitis and can cause cellulitis forming abscesses and boils. If it does not cause cellulitis, it is treated in much the same way using drainage and oral antibiotics.
1. Wear appropriate protective clothing. For instance, shoes when outside, or at the beach where soda can pop tops and other debris is present.
Wear gloves, long pants, socks, etc. when situations call for them. Don’t leave the house without review of what will be needed to prevent skin injuries.
In addition to normal activity, be vigilant during certain situations, include camping, cycling, dirt bike riding, mountain climbing, skating, surfboarding, skiing, etc.
Flip flops should be used in public showers and use clean towels at all times. Foot fungus can be picked up in these areas as well as saunas.
2. Immediately treat athlete’s foot, nail fungus and all surface and shallow infections; superficial skin infections can spread from one person to another.
3. Keep all skin well moisturized. Head to toe moisturizer helps to prevent the skin from cracking. Be sure to include upper arms, elbows, callouses on feet, etc.
4. On a daily basis check your feet and toes for cracks and peeling skin, and superficial skin infections.
5. Drink a lot of water, medication can dehydrate the body.