Cellulitis is a bacterial infection, which causes inflammation of the superficial layers of the skin as well as the connective tissues beneath them. In some severe cases, the infection may also spread to the lymph nodes. Cellulitis is often confused with cellulite that is characterized by dimpling of the skin; but both are totally different.
Cellulitis can affect people of all ages and may develop on any part of the body. However, legs and face are more prone to get infected. Usually, the infection follows any injury that involves a break in the skin. It could be a wound, burn injury, insect bite, tattoo, athlete's foot, animal bite, surgical wound, skin rash, or dry, cracking skin.
Symptoms and Causes
Symptoms of cellulitis of the legs include pain and tenderness in the affected area that may become red and swollen. The skin would be warm to touch. The affected person may also develop fever and chills. Physical examination is considered the most reliable method to diagnose the condition. During the initial stages, cellulitis is characterized by skin rash, which may cause itching.
The rash may disappear leaving small marks. However, severe forms of cellulitis cause permanent rash, which are red and swollen. This happens when the deeper layers of the skin are severely infected. Once they gain entry to the deeper skin layers, the bacteria spread rapidly and may enter the bloodstream, lymph nodes and other body parts, leading to complications. Cellulitis of the lower legs is often confused with deep vein thrombosis.
Cellulitis is caused by bacteria, that are already present in the human body; or those, which enter the body from external sources. These bacteria enter the body through the cuts or cracks on the skin and cause infection. Poor hygiene can also be a contributing factor. In most cases, Group A streptococcus bacteria, are found to cause cellulitis. These bacteria are commonly found on the human skin and in the throat.
In normal conditions, they do not cause any harm; but these bacteria can cause infection, if they gain entry into the body through any break in the skin. Apart from that, some physical and medical conditions, like diabetes, pregnancy, obesity, etc., are also considered as risk factors. Those with a weak immune system are also prone to develop this infection. Elderly people, and those with eczema, psoriasis, lymphedema, skin ulcer and HIV/AIDS, are vulnerable to this condition.
Cellulitis can also be caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, which are found on the skin and the mucous membranes. In kids, the most common cause is Haemophilus influenzae type B, which can lead to serious infections.
Treatment involves use of oral antibiotics to fight bacteria. Application of cold compresses is good for relief from pain. The wounds have to be cleaned and disinfected regularly. Severe cases of cellulitis infection may require intravenous therapy too. Pain relief medication may also be administered. However, severe pain is considered a symptom of necrotizing fasciitis, a complication caused by cellulitis, and needs immediate surgical repair.
With antibiotic therapy, cellulitis of the legs may disappear within a week, but severe cases need more time for complete cure. This skin infection may cause severe debility or even death, if left untreated. If it is not completely cured, the person may develop infection repeatedly. Some herbal and homeopathic medicines are also found to be effective for treating cellulitis. Consult a qualified practitioner for such treatment.
You can prevent this skin disorder by boosting your immune system and practicing proper hygienic practices. Wounds should be cleaned and dressed properly, to prevent this bacterial infection. Above all, approach a doctor as soon as you develop the symptoms, and prevent the spread of infection with proper and timely treatment.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.