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Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center

Cellulitis - Treatment Overview

The intent of cellulitis treatment is to decrease the severity of the infection, speed up recovery, relieve pain and other symptoms, heal the skin, and prevent the infection from coming back.

Antibiotics are usually used to treat cellulitis. If the infection is limited to a small area, has not spread to the bloodstream or lymph system, and you don't have any other medical problems, antibiotics you take by mouth (oral) are effective. If the infection is more widespread, or if you're having a slow recovery on oral antibiotics, antibiotics may be used intravenously (IV) or by injection.

For cellulitis of the leg or arm, treatment also includes elevating the limb to reduce swelling.

Treatment for children depends on their age and which part of the body is infected. An antibiotic is usually given intravenously. Facial cellulitis in young children requires immediate treatment and responds well to antibiotics.1

Treatment sometimes requires a stay in the hospital. This is common if antibiotics must be given intravenously. But a hospital stay is also considered if you have signs of complications such as a high fever or if it will be hard for you to have follow-up care with a doctor.

Medicines used to treat cellulitis

Oral, topical (applied to the skin), or intravenous antibiotics may be used to treat cellulitis. The extent of the infection and its location help determine what type of antibiotic is used.

  • Oral antibiotics include penicillin, cephalexin, or cefaclor. For people who are allergic to penicillin, a cephalosporin or erythromycin can be used.
  • Topical antibiotics (antibiotics that you spread on the skin) may be used to treat mild cellulitis in some cases.
  • Intravenous (IV) antibiotics or antimicrobials may be used if the cellulitis is spreading quickly or you have a weakened immune system or a condition like diabetes.

Preventing a recurrence of cellulitis

Cellulitis tends to recur in people who have certain medical conditions that can lead to skin breakdown, such as edema (fluid buildup), fungal or bacterial infections, diabetes, or peripheral arterial disease.

  • If you have edema, support stockings and good skin hygiene may reduce or eliminate recurrence of cellulitis.2
  • If you have frequent fungal infections, regular use of antifungal medicines may help reduce recurrent cellulitis.
  • If you are considered very high risk for recurring cellulitis, taking preventive antibiotics may help.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 14, 2011
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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