Cellulitis is the term used to refer to the bacterial infection of the skin. The most common symptoms of cellulitis are swollenness, redness, and warmth around the affected skin area, which can often be painful to touch. It is most commonly caused by a group of bacteria known as beta-hemolytic streptococci.
Cellulitis is different from a skin abscess, which is a collection of pus under the skin, although both are a result of bacteria breaching the skin barrier, oftentimes through tiny cuts.
Cellulitis is primarily diagnosed through clinical examination. This means that your physician will examine the affected skin area and determine whether it displays the required criteria to be classified as cellulitis. In severe cases or in high-risk patients with a weak immune system, your physician might also order a set of blood cultures and other blood tests that include inflammatory markers like CRP and the white blood cell count. In severe cases, a CT scan may be needed to look for more serious infections.
Treatment of Cellulitis
The most important thing that your physician will determine when examining the affected skin area is whether you require emergency medical treatment. Because cellulitis is a bacterial infection, patients might experience fever, chills, and general body aches. If your body fails to respond well to the infection, you might need to be admitted into a hospital immediately.
However, if this is not the case, you will normally be treated with a course of oral antibiotics, which should clear up the infection. Examples of common oral antibiotics are cephalexin (Keflex), clindamycin, trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim), and doxycycline. You may also be prescribed painkillers. If you have a skin abscess, you may be required to undergo incision and drainage to get rid of the pus.
It is important to know that the size of the cellulitis and redness usually does not improve immediately after starting antibiotics. In fact, in many cases, the affected area can still grow larger for as long as 48 hours after starting antibiotics.
Most patients recover from cellulitis within 7 to 10 days with a course of antibiotics. During recovery, you should ensure that the affected area is kept clean. Cellulitis can recur even after resolved, especially in immunocompromised patients.