Cellulitis is an infection of the deep layers of skin. In practice, it is often difficult to tell how deep the infection is rooted.
What causes cellulitis?
Bacteria get into the skin through a small break (e.g. a cut, scratch, insect bite or injection) or via a skin problem (such as athlete’s foot, eczema or a leg ulcer). The body’s immune system will try to stop the bacteria, but if this is not successful an infection develops.
Who gets cellulitis?
Anybody can get cellulitis, but some conditions make it more likely, particularly:
- being overweight.
- swollen limbs, due to problems with the veins or lymphatic vessels.
- skin disease, e.g. eczema.poorly-controlled diabetes.
- intravenous drug use.
- impaired immune system (e.g. due to illness or drugs which reduce the immune response).
Is it hereditary?
What are the symptoms of cellulitis?
Cellulitis is most common on the lower leg, but any area of skin can be affected. For up to a day before the skin changes become visible, you may feel generally unwell and feverish. Affected skin becomes red, feels warm and is often swollen and tender. The nearest lymph glands may become enlarged and painful.
What does cellulitis look like?
The area of red, swollen skin often has ill-defined margins and gradually enlarges over a day or two. Sometimes, blisters, filled with clear fluid or blood, form, eventually bursting to leave raw areas of skin.
As long as the affected area is red, swollen and hot, it should be rested and raised.
In the case of cellulitis of the leg, the foot should ideally be elevated, with the ankle above the level of the hip, to allow gravity to reduce the swelling. If the leg remains swollen after the cellulitis has settled, compression stockings may be prescribed, and elevation of the leg advised when resting, to reduce the likelihood of further episodes of cellulitis. Weight loss may help reduce leg swelling and aid mobility.