Five Fast Facts About Cellulitis (Skin Infections)

Cellulitis is a common skin infection -- in fact, 14.5 million cases of cellulitis are diagnosed in the U.S. every year! If left untreated, cellulitis can cause serious complications. Here are five fast facts patients should know about this condition.

1) What Causes Cellulitis?

Cellulitis happens when there’s a crack or break in the skin that allows harmful bacteria to enter. Sometimes the break in the skin is visible (for example, cuts, scratches, or burns) and other times, the break in the skin is microscopic. The most common bacteria that cause cellulitis are Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus, and MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus).

2) What Are the Symptoms of Cellulitis?

Cellulitis causes the infected skin to become red, swollen, painful, and warm to the touch. If it advances, patients can also develop lymph node swelling, fever, and chills. While cellulitis happens most commonly on the legs, it can develop on any area of the skin.

3) What’s the Treatment for Cellulitis?

Cellulitis is treated with a course of oral antibiotics. Topical antibiotic creams and ointments don’t work for cellulitis since they don’t penetrate all the layers of the skin.

Additionally, medical providers will often outline the infection with a skin marker, so patients have an objective way of telling if the infection is responding to the antibiotics or not. If the redness expands beyond the marked border despite antibiotics, it can be an indication of antibiotic resistance, which would require a change in medication.

4) What Happens if Cellulitis Isn’t Treated?

If cellulitis isn’t treated promptly and appropriately, it can cause dangerous complications. The bacteria can spread from the skin into the lymph system, causing a serious infection called lymphangitis, or it can spread to the bloodstream, causing a blood infection called bacteremia. These systemic infections can progress to cause sepsis, where the body’s organs malfunction and begin to shut down.

5) Can Cellulitis Be Prevented?

In a word, yes, cellulitis can often be prevented! It’s recommended that patients bathe or shower frequently to prevent excess bacteria build-up on the skin. It’s also important to flush skin wounds with clean water immediately and apply antibiotic ointment and a dressing. Patients with diabetes should have regular foot exams to make sure they don’t have wounds that could become infected. And it also helps to moisturize your skin frequently to prevent chapped or cracked skin, which can increase the likelihood of infection.

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At GoHealth Urgent Care, we diagnose and treat cellulitis (and lots of other illnesses and injuries, too!) It's important to know other types of fungal skin infections like ringworm or athlete's foot. If there’s anything we can do to help you feel better, click below to save your spot today.


Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant