Everyone gets the occasional dry skin, heat rash, or unexplained red patch on their skin from time to time. It’s completely normal to get reactions to everyday things. Too much sun, intense heat, and allergic reactions to plants, animals, or household items like laundry detergent are all common causes of skin irritation. However, if a rash doesn’t clear up after a day or two, seems to be expanding, or is accompanied by fever or warm, swollen skin it could be more than just a mild rash. When a rash presents with symptoms like these, it’s time to seek medical help to rule out health conditions and potential infections like cellulitis skin infection.
What Is Cellulitis?
Cellulitis is a bacterial infection that affects the skin and tissue underneath the skin. It is common in the United States, with the American Academy of Dermatology estimating 14.5 million cases diagnosed each year.
What Causes Cellulitis?
Most cases of cellulitis are caused by two main bacteria: Streptococcus (strep) and Staphylococcus (staph). Another culprit is methicillin-resistant Staph aureus (MRSA).
Bacteria can get into the body in a multitude of ways: rubbing the eyes, touching the mouth or nose, or kissing someone with a bacterial infection. In the case of cellulitis, bacteria enter the body through an injury to the skin such as a cut, scratch, burn, sore, bug bite, or another open wound. Deep cracks in the skin, such as from athlete’s foot, eczema, or severely dry skin, can also open the door for bacteria to enter the body. Usually the body’s immune system works to destroy bacteria when it comes in contact with the skin. However, bacteria sometimes sneak into the body before they can be destroyed on the skin. Cellulitis can occur once bacteria penetrate the skin.
Cellulitis symptoms can appear anywhere on the body, but most adults get symptoms of cellulitis on a leg or a foot. Children, on the other hand, tend to develop symptoms on the face or neck. Other than the location, cellulitis symptoms usually manifest the same in adults and children. The Mayo Clinic highlights the following symptoms of cellulitis:
- Red skin, especially if it’s expanding
- Swelling of the affected area
- Warm skin
- Skin that is painful or tender to the touch
- Red spots
- Skin dimpling
How Do You Treat Cellulitis?
Cellulitis can usually be diagnosed by a physical examination of the affected area of the skin. Once diagnosed, prompt cellulitis treatment is essential to prevent the bacterial infection from spreading to other parts of the body such as the lymph nodes or into the bloodstream. If this occurs, serious complications may result, including permanent damage to the immune system.
When caught and treated early, cellulitis usually clears up and doesn’t leave any long-term issues. Common cellulitis treatments include oral antibiotics and wound care. Oral antibiotics are usually taken for around 7 to 14 days, and symptoms should start to improve within just a couple of days of starting the medication. If a patient isn’t responding to the oral antibiotics, sometimes IV antibiotics are necessary. Wound care is important to encourage fast and proper healing. The sooner the wound closes, the less likely bacteria can enter through it.
Breaking out in a rash is no reason to panic. Skin rashes are common and often clear up on their own or with the help of over-the-counter creams and ointments. But if a skin rash persists, spreads, is accompanied by warmth, pain to the touch, fever, or blisters head to the doctor right away. A doctor visit is especially important if a previous cellulitis diagnosis has been made. Cellulitis can usually be cleared up quickly with oral antibiotics, but if left untreated, cellulitis can result in serious complications.