Cellulitis is an uncontrolled infection causing extensive swelling. Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and underlying tissues that can affect any area of the body. Cellulitis begins in an area of broken skin like a cut or scratch allowing bacteria to invade and spread causing inflammation which includes pain swelling warmth and redness. Recent surgery also carries the risk of developing cellulitis.
Disorders that create breaks in the skin and allow bacteria to enter such as eczema and severe acne Chicken pox and scratched insect bites are common causes of cellulitis. Cellulitis may also start in areas of intact skin especially in people who have diabetes or who are taking medicines that suppress the immune system. Many different types of bacteria can cause cellulitis but the most common bacterial cause if streptococcus.
One specific type of cellulitis that can occur in children is periorbital cellulitis an infection of the eyelid and tissues surrounding the eye. It can be the result of minor trauma to the area around the eye (such as an insect bite or a scratch) or it may be the extension of another site of infection such as sinusitis.
Periorbital cellulitis is treated with antibiotics and close follow-up. If untreated it can progress to orbital cellulitis (infection of the eye orbit or socket) a much more severe infection that results in a bulging eyeball eye pain restricted eye movements or visual disturbances. This is an emergency that requires hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics.
Prevention of cellulitis starts with good hygiene. Any breaks in the skin such as cuts bites or scratches should be cleaned with soap and water before applying a bandage. The area should be kept clean until the skin has healed over.
People with diabetes need to be careful with wounds to their feet or legs. Diabetes causes nerve damage known as neuropathy which can result in a lack of feeling in the legs and feet. Because people with diabetes may not be aware of a foot injury they should inspect their feet daily for any cuts or abnormal areas. Diabetes also causes poor circulation which means wounds do not heal well. As a result cellulitis is more difficult to treat in people with diabetes.
Most people with cellulitis can be treated with oral antibiotics at home. However if there are signs of systemic illness or extensive cellulitis treatment may require hospital admission for initial intravenous antibiotics. Treatment for uncomplicated cellulitis is usually for 10 to 14 days but antibiotics should be continued until all signs of infection have cleared (redness pain and swelling). The oral antibiotics used most commonly are penicillin flucloxacillin cefuroxime or erythromycin.
Although not contagious if cellulitis is not treated it can get worse. Some cases can develop into deeper more serious infections of the tissue under the skin. This can lead to serious effects including loss of a limb and even death.