Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and underlying tissues that can affect any area of the body. It often begins in an area of broken skin, like a cut or scratch. Then bacteria invade and spread, causing inflammation, pain, swelling, warmth and redness. Bacteria are present on the skin and do not generally cause any harm; however, if they go deep into the skin they can cause infection. They generally get in through cuts, grazes or bites. While cellulitis sometimes develops around wounds in the skin or surgical incisions, in other cases it arises without an obvious source for the bacterial infection. Staphylococciare the bacteria that most commonly cause cellulitis, followed by Streptococci. Less commonly, other types of bacteria may cause cellulitis.
People with eczema or psoriasis have a higher risk of bacteria getting into the skin. Other risk factors include the following:
- Obese people- obese people are more likely to have swelling in their legs. This raises the chances of developing cellulitis.
- People with a weakened immune system – such as patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy, those with AIDS/HIV and very elderly people.
- People with diabetes- if the diabetes is not properly treated or controlled the patient’s immune system will be weaker, he/she will have circulatory problems which can lead to skin ulcers. Poor control of blood glucose levels allows bacteria to grow faster in the affected tissue and facilitates rapid progression if the infection enters the bloodstream.
- People with blood circulation problems – if a person has poor circulation he/she is more likely to develop skin infections because the blood supply is not ideal for fighting off infections.
- People with chickenpox and shingles – chicken pox and shingles cause skin blisters. If the blisters break they become ideal routes for bacteria to get into the skin.
- People with lymphedema - people with lymphedema tend to have swollen skin which is more likely to crack. Cracks in the skin may become perfect entry routes for bacteria.
- People who have had cellulitis before - anybody who has had cellulitis has a higher risk of developing it again compared to others.
- People who inject illegal drugs – drug addicts who do not have access to a regular supply of clean needles are more likely suffer from infections deep inside the skin.
- Highly densely populated areas- there is a higher incidence of cellulitis among people who share common living quarters, such as military installations, school/college dormitories and homeless shelters.
Antibiotics are essential for the treatment of cellulitis. Penicillin derivatives are often prescribed to treat cellulitis, but other antibiotics can also be effective. In more advanced cases of cellulitis, hospitalization and administration of intravenous antibiotics may be required. The vast majority of cellulitis cases respond to treatment and the patient will have no complications. However, a small percentage of patients could have serious complications, which include blood poisoning (septicemia), bacteria spreading to other parts of the body (including muscle, bone or the heart valves) and permanent swelling if the cellulitis is not treated. Also, cellulitis requires particularly close monitoring when it infects the eyelid and tissues surrounding the eye. It can be the result of minor trauma to the area around the eye (such as an insect bite or a scratch) or might be an extension of another infection, such as sinusitis. This kind of cellulitis requires close follow-up. If untreated, it can progress to a more serious infection that affects vision.
Cellulitis is a common skin disease that can sometimes be prevented, but other times cases are not preventable. It is certainly not to be taken lightly. There are things people can do to reduce their chances of developing it, such as treating your cuts by cleaning them and using antiseptic cream, reducing the likelihood of scratching and infecting your skin by keeping the fingernails short and clean, using moisturizers so that your skin does not become too dry and crack, losing weight to reduce the risk of cellulitis, eating healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables to help your immune system and protecting your skin by using gloves and long sleeves when you are doing things such as gardening.