Cellulitis is a common type of skin infection that is caused by bacteria, usually forming around the facial area or lower legs, but can also occur on any other part of the body. It is a form of staph infection that affects deeper layers in the skin. The affected area typically becomes red, painful and tender, giving off heat that is warm to the touch. The redness and inflammation can slowly increase in size as the infection spreads over the skin.
Aside from the red, inflamed skin reaction, there are other symptoms to watch out for when dealing with cellulitis:
- Hair loss around the infected area
Causes and Risk Factors
The main cause of cellulitis is bacteria entering the skin, primarily through some form of cut or abrasion. The most common types of bacteria to cause cellulitis are streptococcus and staphylococcus, which are normally found on the outer surface of the skin. When a cut or abrasion occurs, these bacteria can enter the skin and infect the skin tissues causing them to become inflamed. This makes any type of break in the skin a possible risk factor:
- Insect bites or stings
- Animal bites
- Cuts and scrapes
- Cracks or peeling skin, especially between the toes
Certain individuals are at a higher risk for developing cellulitis, including:
- Elderly people
- Anyone with a weakened immune system
How to Treat Cellulitis
There are numerous ways cellulitis can be treated, which include:
- Antibiotic creams: In most cases of cellulitis, a physician will prescribe antibiotic creams or ointments to treat the infection. These antibiotics are applied to the infected area, and covered with a bandage.
- Antibiotics orally ingested: For more moderate cases, certain antibiotics can be prescribed that are required to be orally ingested.
- Antibiotics directly to the blood: In rare, severe cases of cellulitis, hospitalization may be required so that medical staff can administer antibiotics directly into the blood stream intravenously (IV).
- Acupuncture: Though this alternative treatment method is still being studied, many have made bold claims to acupuncture's effectiveness for treating cellulitis.
- Vitamins: One of the suggested methods of helping cellulitis treatment is boosting your immune system with more vitamin C and vitamin E.
- Flavonoids: Foods like green tea, dark chocolate and red wine can possibly help reduce the risk of cellulitis from forming.
- Honey: Some studies suggest that applying honey on open wounds can speed up the healing process and prevent cellulitis from occurring. It is important to speak to a physician before attempting to use honey as a healing salve.
Antibiotics will always be the suggested and preferred method for treating cellulitis. It is important to continue taking any prescribed antibiotics for cellulitis for the duration your physician has suggested, even if the condition has appeared to subside. A physician might also prescribe something to help you deal with the pain caused by your infection. Those infected with cellulitis should get as much rest as possible, and keep the infected area raised higher than the heart to reduce swelling.
There are several preventative measures a person can take to avoid cellulitis:
- Wear shoes and other footwear that properly fit, and will not cut or irritate your skin.
- Properly trimming your nails, especially your toenails to prevent self-inflicted cuts and abrasions.
- Wearing protective equipment while you work or do any type of physical activity where your skin can easily be cut or wounded.
- Properly moisturizing your skin to prevent cracks from forming.
- Cleaning any break in the skin immediately with soap and water.
- Covering wounds with a clean bandage, and changing the bandage regularly until the wound begins to scab.
Complications Caused by Cellulitis
A cellulitis infection should be reported to your physician immediately. If left untreated, cellulitis can develop the following complications:
- Gangrene: death and decay of healthy skin tissue
- Necrotizing fasciitis: a flesh-eating virus that can also lead to shock
- Osteomyelitis: bone infection
- Meningitis: infection of the brain and spinal cord
- Sepsis: a deadly illness where the body's entire bloodstream is affected by bacteria
- Lympadenitis: infection of the lymph nodes
- Abscesses: collection of puss that resembles a boil