Cellulitis is an infection of a bacterial nature of the deepest layer of the skin (the dermis) and the layers of soft and fatty tissues that are located right under the skin. It should not be confused with cellulite, which is completely different.

Initially, the condition is a red and swollen skin area, which becomes hot and sensitive when touched. Most of the times it is also painful and expands quickly in size.

The infection can appear anywhere on the skin, including the face. However, it is most often found on the lower part of the legs. The condition can infect all parts of the skin, from the surface to the deep layers. In severe cases, it also expands to the lymph nodes and can reach the blood flow.

Cellulitis can be a very dangerous disease. Without treatment, it can expand rapidly and become lethal. If you suspect you might have this condition, it is very important to go see a doctor immediately.

The two types of bacteria that usually cause cellulitis are Staphylococcus and Streptococcus. Cellulitis starts when one of these bacteria use a cracks in the skin to infect the deeper layers. Usually, the disease starts from cuts, surgery or deep insect stings. However, cellulitis is also influenced by a number of other factors, which can increase the risk of infection.

Causes of cellulitis

Cellulitis infects patches of skin in locations where it has been breached due to wounds or inflammation. The most common causes of cellulitis are surgical incisions, cuts, burns, insect bites, abrasions or other types of wounds. Objects that pierce the skin, like pieces of wood or metal, also allow the pathogens to penetrate it. The skin can also be damaged by a number of diseases such as acne, eczema, psoriasis or scabies. Sometimes, the infection starts without an obvious cause, since the skin appears to be intact.

Symptoms of cellulitis

Cellulitis has several typical symptoms, if you experience any of them you should ask for medical advice. It usually starts with skin redness and the rash tends to expand rapidly. Unlike other skin conditions that cause rashes, the skin is painful when touched or even when not. These two symptoms are the trademark of cellulitis, if redness is combined with pain it's a good idea to go see your doctor. The skin also becomes swollen and tender and even hot, as the inflammation grows. The color of the skin sometimes turns into a very intense red or orange.

In time, more serious symptoms of cellulitis can appear. Blisters full of pus or other fluids can emerge on the skin surface, named vesicles when small or bullae when larger in size. If the pus builds up in the center of a blister, if can develop a yellow head.

A more severe infection causes fever and other symptoms like vomiting, chills, nausea, fatigue or weakness. A general state of confusion can also happen, as well as reduced blood pressure, rapid heartbeats or headaches. The infection can make the lymph nodes in the area become swollen and inflamed, as well as the blood vessels which are part of the lymphatic system. These conditions are named lymphadenitis and lymphangitis, respectively.

Treatment options

The most common treatment for cellulitis is a cure of antibiotics. Usually, these can be taken orally at home. A cure of antibiotics normally lasts for a week but the first positive effects should be visible from the first couple of days. Even if you start feeling better, it is very important to take the tablets until the end of the prescribed period. If there is no positive change after a few days or the disease is not cured in a week, contact your doctor right away.

In very serious cases of cellulitis, hospitalization is needed. For a stronger effect, the antibiotics are delivered straight into the vein, using a needle or after a drip is installed. The intravenous treatment also lasts for one week but hospitalization is not always needed for the entire period. Most hospitals agree to administrate the injections in an outside clinic or even at the home of the patient.

Infections that react quickly to antibiotics can be cured with just an oral treatment. This is very convenient, since injections are not needed and the cure can be completed easily at home.

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