How to Identify and Treat Cellulitis

There are so many different kinds of skin rashes that it can make it hard to identify and treat cellulitis without a myriad of tests. With that said, each skin condition has unique characteristics as well as those similar to other rashes, so it may not be as easy as you think to determine if you are really suffering from cellulitis. Unfortunately, and with that said, cellulitis is not a skin rash to take lightly.

Common Causes of Cellulitis

Before looking at identifying cellulitis, it is extremely important to understand that this is a skin rash caused by bacteria. It is a bacterial infection and as such, it can travel quickly throughout the body, infiltrate your bloodstream and cause secondary problems if left to progress.

While many people think that this rash is the result of poor hygiene, that isn’t always the case, but it could be. Generally speaking, bacteria get in through a cut and then reach down to the deepest layers of the skin. However, the bacterial infection could also be the result of a bug bite or even a small cut. It only takes the tiniest of cuts or punctures in the skin to allow bacteria entry and that is why the early signs can be unnoticeable. If the skin is dry and cracked, bacteria can get in and if a cut or crack is too small, as mentioned, you wouldn’t notice the infection most of the time until it began getting inflamed and raw. This is usually the point where you need to worry about secondary issues arising from the spread of the bacteria.

There are also other diseases and illnesses that can lead to a major bout of cellulitis. Sometimes cellulitis is the result of poor circulation or blood function. Peripheral arterial disease, PAD, is also a common cause because tiny bits of blood leak from veins, and as that wells up in the lower extremities, infection can easily follow. There is one informative website, Patient, which provides a comprehensive look at cellulitis and a very similar infection, erysipelas. This particular site is there to provide a wealth of information to patients and healthcare professionals alike. The reason they paired cellulitis with erysipelas is because they are quite literally the same type of infection, but erysipelas is not as serious.

The Symptoms of Cellulitis

Sadly, the symptoms of cellulitis so closely resemble so many other skin diseases that it may be difficult to make a determination just by observation. Common symptoms and signs of cellulitis are:

  • Red expanding area of the skin
  • Tenderness
  • Pain
  • Red spots
  • Blisters
  • Swelling
  • Warm/hot to the touch
  • Dimpling of the skin

Another sign of what you are suffering is the area in which it is observed. Very often cellulitis is observed on the lower region of the legs and is the result of poor circulation. However, in reality, cellulitis can occur anywhere.

Risk Factors and Treatment

Another thing to consider when trying to identify cellulitis would be the risk factors. As mentioned, this particular skin rash has many of the same symptoms of so many others but one of the main differences is location. Then, if you are trying to determine if it is genuinely cellulitis or some other type of rash, you might want to consider the risk factors which include:

  • Immune system that is weak
  • An injury or open cut
  • Skin conditions that cause breaks
  • Swelling in legs and arms that is chronic
  • Obesity
  • Previous cellulitis infections

If you look closely at each of those risk factors, you will begin to see a clear pattern of how they can work together with observed symptoms to get close to a diagnosis. Being that cellulitis is most often a direct result of one of the above, it can be easier to diagnose. Even so, don’t let that be your only guide because you should also get a culture from an oozing or weeping sore if possible because cellulitis is most often caused by either staphylococcus or streptococcus bacteria. Then to add insult to injury, a much more serious bacteria is causing cellulitis and that would be the very same one that causes MRSA, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus.

Treatment for cellulitis is most often a high-dose regimen of antibiotics. It is imperative that you follow your doctor’s orders to the letter because complications can arise with repeat infections. 

Complications and Prevention

As mentioned above, repeat infections can result in a number of complications. These can include such things as swelling of the affected limb. Repeat cellulitis infections can also cause other issues such as necrotizing fasciitis which is a deep layer infection and also a critical emergency.

It cannot be said enough that cellulitis is nothing to toy with. It is a serious infection and if left to spread, it can indeed be life threatening. At this point, to prevent dire complications, prevention should be the next step in treatment. Your doctor prescribed a regimen of antibiotics and you’ve followed the instructions, taking every pill on time as directed. Since complications are often the result of repeat infections, it’s imperative that you learn how to prevent those reinfections.

Not only can these preventative measures help to prevent reinfection, but they can also help to prevent cellulitis in the first place if there is a break or crack in the skin or if you have an as yet undiagnosed rash. Once a diagnosis is made, you should work to prevent other infections at the same time. 

Wound Care for Prevention

Throughout all of the above information, you saw just how easy it is to become infected with cellulitis through an open wound, cut, or crack in the skin. To prevent a cellulitis infection from occurring, you can use the following preventative measures which include:

  • Cleanse the wound daily with first aid soap and water. It is advised that you do so during your regular bathing routine so that you don’t miss a day of keeping it cleansed and as germ free as possible.
  • Use a protective layer of cream or ointment on all, if not most, surface wounds. Even OTC ointments and petroleum jellies work well as do topical antibiotic ointments and creams.
  • Keep your wound covered and change your bandages at least every 12 hours.
  • Don’t forget to watch for any signs that your cut is becoming infected. This is a critical step in prevention.

Finally, anyone who has diabetes should also take extra protections because they are already prone to poor drainage and swelling in the legs. Don’t forget to inspect your feet at least daily and make sure that your nails are clipped so you don’t penetrate the skin while inspecting. Keep your skin well-moisturised and don’t forget to treat your feet for any other kinds of infections such as blisters from new shoes or athlete’s foot, which is a fungal infection. 

Any infection in the feet and lower legs can make conditions ripe for other pathogens, so make prevention a part of your daily routine. If you have suffered from cellulitis before or if you suspect it now, it is imperative that you get it seen by a doctor as soon as possible. Cellulitis can have far reaching consequences if it is left to spread. 

Written by Eric

37-year-old who enjoys ferret racing, binge-watching boxed sets and praying. He is exciting and entertaining, but can also be very boring and a bit grumpy.