Understanding Cellulitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Understanding Cellulitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options
from NHS

You’re likely no stranger to the importance of good skin health. But did you know that even minor skin injuries can sometimes lead to more serious problems, like cellulitis? Cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection that can cause redness, swelling, and tenderness, and if left untreated, it can even spread to other parts of the body. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about cellulitis, including its causes, symptoms, and treatment options. Whether you’ve experienced cellulitis before or just want to be prepared, this guide will help you take control of your skin health and stay feeling beautiful, inside and out.

Causes of Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection that can occur anywhere on the body, but is most commonly seen on the legs, arms, and face. It typically affects the deeper layers of the skin and can cause redness, swelling, warmth, and tenderness. While cellulitis can affect anyone, some people are at a higher risk of developing this condition than others.


The most common cause of cellulitis is bacteria, which can enter the skin through a cut, scrape, or other type of skin injury. The most common bacteria that lead to cellulitis are Streptococcus and Staphylococcus, which are found on the skin’s surface and in some cases, in the nose or mouth. These bacteria can sometimes enter the body through a break in the skin and cause an infection.

Risk Factors

While anyone can develop cellulitis, some people are at a higher risk of developing this condition than others. People with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV, cancer, or diabetes, are more susceptible to bacterial infections, including cellulitis. Older adults are also more likely to develop cellulitis, as their skin becomes thinner and more fragile with age. In addition, people who have had a history of cellulitis or other skin infections are also at a higher risk of developing the condition in the future.

Skin Injuries

In addition to bacteria and risk factors, skin injuries can also contribute to the development of cellulitis. When the skin is broken or damaged, it’s easier for bacteria to enter the body and cause an infection. This is why it’s important to clean and disinfect any cuts, scrapes, or other injuries as soon as possible to reduce the risk of infection.

Other Causes

While bacteria, risk factors, and skin injuries are the most common causes of cellulitis, there are other factors that can contribute to the development of this condition. For example, people with lymphedema, a condition that causes swelling in the arms or legs, are at a higher risk of developing cellulitis. In addition, certain skin conditions, such as eczema, can make the skin more prone to infection.

Symptoms of Cellulitis

When it comes to cellulitis, the symptoms can be quite noticeable and uncomfortable. If you’re experiencing any of the following signs, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible to prevent the infection from spreading or becoming more serious.

Typical signs of cellulitis

Redness: One of the most common signs of cellulitis is redness in the affected area. This redness may be accompanied by warmth, and may gradually expand as the infection spreads. Depending on the severity of the infection, the redness may be mild or very pronounced.

Swelling: In addition to redness, cellulitis can cause significant swelling. This may make the affected area feel puffy or tender to the touch, and may cause clothing or accessories to feel tighter than usual. Swelling can also make it difficult to move the affected limb, depending on where the infection is located.

Pain or tenderness: Cellulitis can be quite painful, and may cause tenderness or soreness in the affected area. This may be especially noticeable when pressure is applied to the area, or when moving the affected limb. Pain may also be accompanied by a general feeling of discomfort or malaise.

Fever: In more severe cases of cellulitis, you may experience a fever as your body tries to fight off the infection. A fever may be accompanied by chills, sweating, or other flu-like symptoms.

Blisters or abscesses: If cellulitis is left untreated for too long, it can cause blisters or abscesses to form in the affected area. These can be quite painful, and may require more intensive treatment to resolve.

How cellulitis differs from other skin conditions

It’s important to note that cellulitis can sometimes be mistaken for other skin conditions, like eczema or acne. However, there are a few key differences to watch out for. Unlike eczema, cellulitis usually develops quickly and can cause more severe symptoms. Unlike acne, cellulitis is usually accompanied by redness and warmth, and typically doesn’t involve blackheads or whiteheads.


Diagnosing Cellulitis

If you suspect that you may have cellulitis, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Your doctor will be able to examine the affected area and determine whether or not you have cellulitis, and if so, what type of treatment is needed. Here’s what you can expect during the diagnosis process:

  • Physical Examination

The first step in diagnosing cellulitis is typically a physical examination of the affected area. Your doctor will likely check for common signs of cellulitis, such as redness, warmth, and swelling, as well as any tenderness or pain you may be experiencing. They may also ask you questions about your symptoms and medical history to help determine the cause of your infection.

  • Imaging Tests

In some cases, your doctor may order imaging tests, such as an X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI, to help determine the extent of your infection and whether it has spread to deeper tissues or organs. These tests can also help rule out other potential causes of your symptoms, such as a fracture or abscess.

  • Blood Tests

Your doctor may also order blood tests to check for signs of infection, such as an elevated white blood cell count or inflammation markers. These tests can help confirm a diagnosis of cellulitis and may also help your doctor determine the best course of treatment.

  • Swab or Tissue Culture

In some cases, your doctor may also take a swab or tissue sample from the affected area to check for the presence of bacteria. This can help determine the type of bacteria causing your infection, which is important for choosing the most effective antibiotic treatment.

It’s worth noting that cellulitis can sometimes be difficult to diagnose, especially in the early stages. In some cases, it may be mistaken for other skin conditions, such as eczema or a rash. If you suspect that you may have cellulitis but your initial diagnosis is inconclusive, it’s important to follow up with your doctor and monitor your symptoms closely.


from Cdc


Treatment Options & Prevention for Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection that can cause a range of uncomfortable symptoms, including redness, warmth, swelling, and tenderness. Luckily, there are several treatment options available to help manage and even cure cellulitis. The best treatment option for you will depend on a range of factors, including the severity of your symptoms and any underlying health conditions you may have.

Medical Treatment

  • Antibiotics

One of the most common treatment options for cellulitis is antibiotics. Antibiotics are medications that help fight off bacterial infections by either killing the bacteria outright or slowing their growth. If you’re experiencing cellulitis, your doctor may prescribe a course of oral or intravenous (IV) antibiotics to help clear up the infection. It’s important to take the full course of antibiotics as prescribed, even if your symptoms start to improve, in order to ensure that the infection is completely eradicated.

  • Pain Relievers

Cellulitis can be quite painful, especially in more severe cases. If you’re experiencing discomfort due to cellulitis, your doctor may recommend taking over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) to help manage the pain. Be sure to follow the dosage instructions carefully, and talk to your doctor if you have any concerns or if your pain isn’t adequately controlled.

  • Rest and Elevation

Rest and elevation can be helpful in managing the symptoms of cellulitis. Elevating the affected area can help reduce swelling and improve blood flow, while resting can help your body conserve energy and focus on fighting off the infection. If you have cellulitis on your leg, for example, your doctor may recommend keeping your leg elevated as much as possible and avoiding activities that could exacerbate the swelling or pain.

  • At-Home Care

In addition to the above treatment options, there are several things you can do at home to help manage the symptoms of cellulitis and promote healing. These may include:

  1. Keeping the affected area clean and dry
  2. Applying a warm, moist compress to the affected area several times a day to help reduce swelling and promote healing
  3. Taking good care of any cuts, scrapes, or other skin injuries to help prevent them from becoming infected
  4. Drinking plenty of fluids to help flush out bacteria from your system
  5. Getting plenty of rest and avoiding strenuous activity as much as possible
  • Surgery

In rare cases, surgery may be necessary to treat cellulitis. This is usually only the case if the infection has spread deep into the body, or if there is an abscess (pocket of pus) that needs to be drained. Surgery may also be necessary if the infection is caused by an underlying condition, like an infected joint or bone.


Preventing Cellulitis

While cellulitis can happen to anyone, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing the condition. Here are some tips for preventing cellulitis:

  • Practice good hygiene

One of the best ways to prevent cellulitis is by keeping your skin clean and healthy. This means washing your hands regularly and keeping any wounds or cuts clean and covered. If you do get a cut, be sure to wash it with soap and water, and apply an antiseptic ointment to prevent infection.

  • Take care of your skin

In addition to good hygiene practices, it’s important to take good care of your skin in general. This means moisturizing regularly, avoiding harsh soaps or skincare products that can irritate your skin, and protecting your skin from the sun with a broad-spectrum sunscreen.

  • Avoid sharing personal items

Cellulitis is caused by bacteria, which means it can be spread through contact with infected individuals or items. To reduce your risk of infection, avoid sharing personal items like towels, razors, and makeup brushes. If you’re in a public space, consider using antibacterial wipes or hand sanitizer to clean your hands and any surfaces you come into contact with.

  • Manage underlying health conditions

Certain underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or eczema, can increase your risk of developing cellulitis. If you have an underlying health condition, work with your doctor to manage it effectively and minimize your risk of developing skin infections.

  • Seek medical attention for skin injuries

Finally, if you do get a cut or wound, it’s important to seek medical attention promptly. This is especially true if the wound is deep or doesn’t seem to be healing properly. By seeking prompt medical attention, you can reduce your risk of developing a more serious infection like cellulitis.



Cellulitis is a common skin infection that can cause discomfort and even serious health complications. However, by understanding the causes and symptoms of cellulitis and taking steps to prevent infection, you can minimize your risk of developing the condition. Whether you’re focused on maintaining healthy, beautiful skin or simply want to stay healthy and well, these tips can help you take control of your skin health and reduce your risk of cellulitis. By prioritizing your skin health and practicing good hygiene and skin care habits, you can stay looking and feeling beautiful, inside and out.

Spread the love