Cellulitis is a common infection of the skin and the soft tissues underneath. It happens when bacteria enter a break in the skin and spread. The result is infection, which may cause swelling, redness, pain, or warmth.
Ryan Stanton, MD, doesn't want to meet you this summer. The Lexington, Ky., emergency room physician knows that when the weather starts heating up, so do a host of health hazards that can quickly turn a festive day at the beach into a disaster. He tells WebMD the Magazine about what brings summer revelers into his emergency room most often -- and how you can enjoy the warm weather while escaping the same fate.
Circulatory problems, such as not enough blood flow to your arms and legs, poor drainage of your veins or lymphatic system, or varicose veins -- twisted, enlarged veins near the surface of the skin
Liver disease such as chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis
Skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, or infectious diseases that cause sores, such as chickenpox
Causes of Cellulitis
Injuries that tear the skin
Infections after surgery
Long-term skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis
Foreign objects in the skin
Bone infections underneath the skin. (An example is a long-standing, open wound that is deep enough to expose the bone to bacteria.)
Symptoms of Cellulitis
Cellulitis can appear on almost any part of the body. It usually shows up on damaged skin such as inflamed wounds, dirty cuts, and areas with poor circulation. It needs to be treated by a doctor. Common symptoms include:
Pain or tenderness
Leaking of yellow, clear fluid or pus
When to Seek Emergency Care for Cellulitis
Go to the emergency room if you have any of the following:
High fever or chills
Nausea and vomiting
Enlarging or hardening of the reddened area
Numbness of the area when touched
Other medical problems that may be affected by even a minor infection
Exams and Tests for Cellulitis
Your doctor will do a medical history and physical exam. Additional procedures include:
A blood test if the infection is suspected to have spread to your blood
An X-ray if there’s a foreign object in the skin or the bone underneath is possibly infected
A culture. Your doctor will use a needle to draw fluid from the affected area and send it to the lab.
Treatment for Cellulitis
Rest the area.
Elevate the area to help reduce swelling and relieve discomfort.
Use over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) to ease the pain, as well as keep your fever down.