Causes And Diagnosis For Cellulitis
Cellulitis is common infection that can affect anyone. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), there are an estimated 14.5 million cases of cellulitis diagnosed in the U.S. each year.
Cellulitis is a painful bacterial skin infection. It may first appear as a red, swollen area that feels hot and tender to the touch. The redness and swelling can spread quickly.
Adults typically experience cellulitis in the lower legs, although it can occur anywhere there’s a break in the skin, according to Julie Maher, a clinical assistant professor of nursing at Carthage College in Wisconsin.
Causes Of Cellulitis
Several types of bacteria may cause cellulitis, the most common being the Streptococcus (strep), Staphylococcus (staph) and the difficult-to-treat methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria.
These bacteria are among many that live on our skin and never present a problem in most healthy individuals. But if the bacteria enter the body through an opening in the skin, like a scratch or an open sore, then there’s the possibility of infection.
The infection can start in skin injuries such as:
- Bug bites
- Surgical wounds.
Cellulitis is also more common in people who tend to get skin injuries more often — rambunctious children, athletes, military personnel, residents of a long-term care facility and those who use intravenous drugs, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may want to monitor the affected area for a few days to see if the redness or swelling spread. In some cases, your doctor may take blood or a sample of the wound to test for bacteria.
Your doctor will likely be able to diagnose cellulitis just by looking at your skin. A physical exam might reveal:
- Swelling of the skin
- Redness and warmth of the affected area
- Swollen glands.
Usually, doctors can quickly diagnose cellulitis on sight but will perform tests to determine the extent of the infection. The doctor will assess things like the amount of swelling, the extent of the redness over the affected area and if any glands or lymph nodes are swollen. They might also take blood or skin samples to identify the bacteria causing the infection, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Is There Anything I Can Do At Home?
Cellulitis requires treatment with antibiotics, which are only prescribed by a doctor. But as you recover at home, there are several things you can do to ease any discomfort and avoid complications.
- Covering your wound. Properly covering the affected skin will help it heal and prevent irritation. Follow your doctor’s instructions for dressing your wound and be sure to change your bandage regularly.
- Keeping the area clean. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for cleaning the affected skin.
- Elevating the affected area. If your leg is affected, lie down and elevate your leg above your heart. This will help reduce swelling and ease your pain.
- Applying a cool compress. If the affected skin is hot and painful, apply a clean washcloth soaked in cool water. Avoid chemical icepacks, as these can further irritate damaged skin.
- Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever. A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve), can help reduce pain and inflammation.
- Treating any underlying conditions. Treat any underlying conditions, such as athlete’s foot or eczema, that caused the wound that got infected.
- Taking all your antibiotics. With antibiotic treatment, the symptoms of cellulitis should begin to disappear within 48 hours, but it’s very important to continue taking your antibiotics until all the pills are gone. Otherwise, it may come back, and the second course of antibiotics may not be as effective as the first.
If you have a break in your skin, clean it right away and apply antibiotic ointment. Cover your wound with a bandage. Change the bandage daily until a scab forms.
Watch your wounds for redness, drainage, or pain. These could be signs of an infection.