Cellulitis is an infection of the skin. It causes symptoms of painful red and swollen skin that may feel hot to the touch. It is usually caused by bacteria that usually are found living harmlessly on your skin. The bacteria can cause trouble if there is a weakness to the skin's protection, for example, due to skin conditions, cuts or abrasions to the skin, or in people with lowered immune systems. Most cellulitis is mild and treated successfully with oral antibiotics, however, in a small number of cases the cellulitis can become severe and may require hospitalisation for treatment. The elderly, those with lowered immune systems, people with certain chronic medical conditions such as diabetes and those with skin conditions are at a higher risk of developing cellulitis. You can develop cellulitis anywhere on the body but the most common area for it to occur is on the legs.
Most cases of cellulitis need to be treated with antibiotics, however, there are some other things you can do to help alongside treatment. These include staying hydrated, taking over-the-counter painkillers for the pain and elevating the area to reduce swelling. To help avoid developing cellulitis, try to avoid scratching or breaking the skin in the first place. If this can't be helped, try to clean any breaks to the skin well to reduce the risk of infection.
You should see your doctor urgently if you have symptoms of cellulitis. The area of redness may increase in size but should start to improve after a couple of days of antibiotic treatment. It can be useful to draw around the edge of the red area to see if the size of the red area is increasing or decreasing. You should seek urgent medical attention if you have a temperature, feel extremely unwell, if the area is extremely painful or if the area of redness is large or increasing in size quickly.
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, your medical history and any medications you take. They will then examine the area in question and may take your temperature, blood pressure and heart rate readings. If cellulitis is suspected then you will be given a course of antibiotics. If the cellulitis is severe, the doctor may refer you to the hospital for review and antibiotic treatment through a drip.