What is Cellulitis?
Cellulitis is a serious skin infection caused by bacteria. It manifests in form of swollen, reddish skin that is tender and feeling hot. The infection can easily and rapidly spread to other areas of body, but it does not spread from a person to another. The most commonly affected area of the skin is that of the lower legs, but the infection could also occur in other areas including the face and body.
Although cellulitis is associated with the deep layer of skin, sometimes it may affect tissues that are underlying the skin. It could also spread to other parts like the bloodstream and lymph nodes. If this infection is not treated in time, it could turn out life threatening. Immediate medical attention is required if it is suspected that you have cellulitis infection.
Is Cellulitis Contagious?
Although cellulitis is an infection of the skin, it is not contagious mainly because it tends to manifest in the deep layers of skin called dermis and subcutaneous tissue. Usually, the top layer of skin called epidermis covers the infection making it difficult to spread from one person to another.
This skin infection is caused by bacteria. The most common bacteria that cause cellulitis are staphylococcus and streptococcus. Usually, these bacteria will enter the skin through a break or a crack. The bacteria may enter through areas of skin that have a cut, had a surgery, wound, or ulcers and dermatitis .
Some spider and insect bites could transmit the infection when these insects bite and transfer the bacteria into your skin. People who have dry, flaking and swollen skin are also at risk of getting the bacteria infection.
Cellulitis, on its onset, it appears as a small tender area that swells and comes red as it spreads to adjacent skin. The skin may feel warm when you touch it. As the redness increases and the area of tenderness enlarges, an individual begins to have fever and at times, sweats, chills, and swollen lymph nodes around the infected skin area. The signs and symptoms of cellulitis are:
- An expanding red area of skin
- Red spots
- Skin dimpling
You may notice these symptoms occurring in one side of body. Since this condition can spread fast, you need to know when to seek medical help. If you have swollen, red, tender rash, which seems to be advancing fast, and that is accompanied by fever, you may want to seek prompt medical help.
Cellulitis Vs Impetigo
Both cellulitis and impetigo are skin infections caused by bacteria. To get the right treatment, it is paramount to know the difference between the two. The good thing is that both impetigo and cellulitis can be identified by sight, but culture may be taken to know the exact infection. Here are ways to differentiate these two conditions:
- One way of distinguishing between cellulitis and impetigo is by looking at the appearance of the affected skin. If the skin feels warm and is forming an elongated area or a band, it is mostly likely a case of cellulitis. However, if there are small individual blisters that contain a reddish to brown fluid, which dries to form a crust taking the color of honey, then that may be impetigo.
- When you examine the texture of the affected skin area, cellulitis looks flat with a possibility of having slightly raised skin. On the other hand, impetigo forms uneven bumpy skin.
- In both infections, the skin will turn reddish.
- Impetigo is more common in children while cellilutis mainly affects adults.
- When you look at the glands for swelling, you realize that in case of cellulitis, there are swollen lymph nodes or glands, but in impetigo, there are often no swollen glands or lymph nodes.
- Rarely does impetigo present in form of fever and chills as its symptoms.
Upon a suspected case of cellulitis, a doctor will look at the appearance of the skin to make a diagnosis. The doctor may further order blood tests and wound culture to help rule out the possibility of other conditions and not cellulitis.
Treatment of this infection is by use of oral antibiotic prescriptions. After starting the antibiotic treatment, you should inform your doctor how you are responding to the treatment. The antibiotics should be taken according to doctors direction. It may take five to 10 days or even longer for the treatment to be effective.
The symptoms and signs may disappear in a few days after starting the antibiotic treatment course. However, a patient may need to be put on hospital bed to get intravenous treatment through the veins if:
- The symptoms and signs are not responding to oral medication
- When the symptoms become extensive
- A patient has high fever.
A doctor will prescribe an antibiotic that is effective against staphylococci and streptococci. A patient should take the medication as has been directed by the doctor ensuring that they finish the whole course, even if they feel better. A doctor may also recommend that you keep the affected area elevated to help speed up recovery.
A doctor will need to distinguish if the skin inflammation is occurring due to an infection or not. If it is difficult to determine what’s causing the infection, a doctor will treat the condition with antibiotics. In the event that the treatment is not successful- both oral and intravenous, then a doctor may treat the inflammation for different ailment such as using a corticosteroid to treat an autoimmune disorder.
In the event that cellulitis infection recurs in your body or skin, a doctor may prescribe preventive antibiotics. When you have a skin wound, it is important to prevent infections like cellulitis by:
- Washing the hands daily using soap and water. You should make this part of your daily routine of normal bathing.
- Applying a protective ointment or cream. If you have surface wounds, you may use over-the-counter antibiotic creams and ointments such as Polysporin and Neosporin to help ensure adequate protection.
- Covering the wound using a bandage, but make sure the bandages are changed frequently for hygiene and to prevent re-infections or other infections.
- Make sure you watch out for signs of any infection- these include pain, redness, and drainage, as all these may signal an infection.
In addition to these preventive measures, people with chronic diseases like diabetes and those with poor blood circulation should ensure they take extra precautions against skin injury. These people should ensure good care of their skin through:
- Regularly checking their feet- should inspect their feet daily to see if there are signs of injury. This way, they are able to detect infections early enough.
- Wear well fitting gloves and footwear to protect the hands and feet.
- Carefully trim toenails and fingernails to prevent injuring the surrounding skin.
- Get prompt treatment of infection occurring on the skin surface – for example, athlete’s foot. Don’t wait to seek treatment if you have superficial skin infections because they tend to spread easily and fast from one person to another.
- Cellulitis- Expert Answer. Available at www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cellulitis/expert-answers/cellulitis/faq-20058458
- Cellulitis. Available at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cellulitis/basics/definition/con-20023471