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Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center

Cellulitis - Topic Overview

What is cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a common skin infection that happens when bacteria spread through the skin to deeper tissues. Most cases are mild and last several days to a couple of weeks. But cellulitis can sometimes progress to a more serious infection, causing severe illness that affects the whole body (sepsis) or other dangerous problems.

Treatment is needed to help control the infection and reduce symptoms.

Some people are at higher risk for cellulitis, such as those who have diabetes, a weakened immune system, or edema. They also tend to get sicker from cellulitis. And they are more likely to get cellulitis again.

What causes cellulitis?

Cellulitis is caused by bacteria, most often strep or staph. You can get infected after any event that causes a break in the skin, such as:

Sometimes cellulitis can occur even if there wasn't an obvious break in the skin.

What are the symptoms?

At first, the infected area will be warm, red, swollen, and tender. If the infection spreads, you may have a fever, chills, and swollen lymph nodes.

Cellulitis can occur anywhere on the body. In adults, it often occurs on the legs, face, or arms. In children, it is most common on the face or around the anus.

If you have signs of a skin infection, such as warmth, redness, swelling, or pain, see your doctor. Even minor infections may need to be treated.

How is it diagnosed?

Doctors are often able to diagnose cellulitis based on your symptoms and a physical exam. In most cases, you won't need further testing.

But tests sometimes may be done to find out what's causing your symptoms and to rule out other problems. For example, you may need blood tests, an ultrasound, or an imaging test such as a CT scan or an MRI.

How is it treated?

Cellulitis is treated with antibiotics. If the infection is mild, you may be able to take antibiotic pills at home.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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