What is Cellulitis?

Health Education
4 mins
What is Cellulitis?

Skin infections can be tricky to manage. They have the potential to create discomfort in your daily life. Furthermore, if left unchecked for an extended period, they can lead to severe health complications. So, what is cellulitis? We break down everything you need to know about this bacterial skin infection. Let’s delve into the details.

Cellulitis: What to Consider

Cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection. It occurs when the skin and underlying tissue become infected or inflamed. Usually, it can enter the body through cuts, scrapes, and, in some cases, insect bites. This being said, cellulitis is not contagious. Additionally, two kinds of bacteria can cause cellulitis: staphylococcus and streptococcus. 

Staphylococcus is a bacteria that can form clusters. You can find harmless species on the skin or in the nose. Other forms, though, can cause conditions ranging from mild skin infections to more severe pneumonia or sepsis. Doctors can typically treat it with antibiotics.

Streptococcus, on the other hand, is also a bacterium, but it typically forms chains. Some species, too, are harmless and belong to the human flora. Others can cause diseases such as strep throat and pneumonia. It can also cause more severe illnesses, such as sepsis and necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating skin disease. Penicillin or other antibiotics typically treat it.

Wound care and a clean hygiene routine are important for preventing cellulitis. 

Does Cellulitis Spread From Person to Person?

Cellulitis is an infection typically impacting the lower legs, though it can also appear on the face, arms, and other body parts. The infection starts when bacteria enter through a break in the skin. If not treated promptly, it can progress quickly, potentially spreading to the lymph nodes and bloodstream and posing severe health risks. However, it is important to note that cellulitis is not generally contagious and does not spread from one person to another.

What Are the Potential Complications of Untreated Cellulitis?

Untreated cellulitis can lead to severe health issues. The infection may enter the bloodstream, leading to bacteremia, or spread to the heart, causing endocarditis. It can also progress to infect the bones, known as osteomyelitis, or lead to toxic shock syndrome and sepsis, conditions that are potentially life-threatening. In rare cases, the infection might extend to the deeper tissue layers, such as the fascial lining, potentially causing necrotizing fasciitis, a critical condition that requires immediate medical attention. Furthermore, repeated cellulitis incidents can impair the lymphatic system, resulting in permanent swelling of the affected limb.

How Can Cellulitis Be Prevented?

To effectively prevent cellulitis, especially when dealing with a cut, ulcer, new tattoo, bite, or puncture wound, it is crucial to maintain meticulous hygiene and protective measures. Keeping the skin clean, dry, and covered is essential. As part of your normal bathing routine, you should gently wash the affected area daily with soap and water. Avoid scratching and picking at the skin; wash your hands frequently; and avoid direct contact with others.

Additional precautions can enhance protection against infections. Consult your healthcare provider about whether applying a protective cream or ointment would be beneficial. For most surface wounds, a nonprescription ointment such as Vaseline, Polysporin, or similar can provide adequate protection. Make sure to cover the wound with a bandage, changing it at least daily to keep the area clean and dry.

Be vigilant for signs of infection such as irritation, pain, and pus, all of which signal the need for medical care. This is particularly important for individuals with diabetes or poor circulation, who should take even more rigorous steps to prevent skin injuries. 

Regular foot inspection, careful fingernail and toenail trimming without injuring surrounding skin, regular skin moisturization to prevent cracking (avoiding application on open sores), and wearing appropriate footwear and gloves are all prudent practices. Prompt treatment of any skin surface infections, like athlete's foot, is also essential to prevent them from spreading and worsening.

Cellulitis Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Treatments

Knowing the symptoms, risk factors, and treatment of cellulitis can make a huge difference in preventing its spread and mitigating its severity. Let’s take a deeper look at the facts surrounding cellulitis.

‍Cellulitis Symptoms

There are many cellulitis symptoms to be aware of. Common symptoms include:

  • Redness: The affected area may be red, swollen, and tender; the skin may be warm to the touch.
  • Pain: The site may be painful to touch. Avoid trying to move or touch the area.
  • Blisters: The skin may form blisters, potentially filled with pus.
  • Swelling: If not treated, the site may become swollen and spread quickly.
  • Lymph Node Swelling: While you have this infection, your lymph nodes may become swollen.
  • Fatigue: You may feel fatigued and develop a low-grade fever. 
  • Chills and Fever: You may feel cold and sick and develop a fever if symptoms worsen.
  • Abscess: An abscess may form, which is a pocket of pus that forms under the skin.

Cellulitis is most common on the legs and feet. If any of these symptoms worsen or spread, it is crucial to seek medical attention.

Risk Factors

Cellulitis has the potential to affect anyone. However, some factors may increase your risk of developing this infection. Some include chronic skin conditions such as eczema, drug use, chicken pox or shingles, and skin breaks.

Keeping the skin clean, dry, and covered is essential if you have a cut, ulcer, new tattoo, bite, or puncture wound. Avoid scratching and picking at the skin; wash your hands frequently; and avoid direct contact with others.


So, what does cellulitis treatment entail? As always, it depends on the severity of the infection and the underlying cause. Usually, antibiotics help treat diseases. If you have a mild case of cellulitis, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics. If you are experiencing pain and swelling, over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or a cold compress may be helpful.

If the case is severe, you may need intravenous antibiotics or surgery to drain an abscess or remove infected tissue.

When Should You See a Doctor For Cellulitis?

How should one determine the urgency of a medical consultation for cellulitis? 

The severity and rapid progression of symptoms, particularly if there is a fever or a rapid expansion and tenderness of the rash, determine the urgency.

What are the signs that indicate the need for immediate medical attention in cellulitis cases? 

Immediate medical attention is necessary if there is a rapid change in the rash, severe tenderness, or fever accompanying the rash. 

How quickly should one act in non-emergency situations? 

In non-emergency situations where symptoms are severe but not life-threatening, it is advisable to seek medical attention within the same day. 

If the symptoms are severe but do not include a fever, what should you do?

If you have a swollen, tender, warm, and expanding rash without a fever, you should still see a healthcare provider on the same day. 

What symptoms necessitate emergency care? 

If your rash is swollen, tender, changing quickly, or you have a fever, you need emergency care.

Schedule an appointment today.

Cellulitis can cause serious complications. It is vital to seek medical treatment immediately if you are experiencing symptoms such as fever, redness, swelling, or more.

This bacterial skin infection can cause discomfort and pain in one’s daily life. At BASS Medical Group, we are ready to help you prevent the spread of the infection and avoid severe complications. Our high-quality care and range of services are here to prioritize your safety. 

Contact us today to schedule an appointment!