Bacteria, most commonly streptococcus and staphylococcus, can enter cracks or disrupted areas of the skin, and cause Cellulitis, a non-contagious skin infection characterized by swollen, red skin. Cellulitis is a common, potentially serious condition, affecting 14.5 million people every year. The infection most often affects the lower legs, but can also occur in the face, arms, and other areas. The increased risk most often occurs after a surgery, cut, or puncture wound. Individuals are also more likely to get cellulitis if they have a weakened immune system, obesity, or history of cellulitis.
In addition to swelling and redness, symptoms may also include tenderness, pain, warmth, fever, red spots, blisters, and skin dimpling. Since cellulitis is a deep infection of connective tissue, the redness of skin will appear less defined than the dark-red and slightly purplish skin caused by Erysipelas, a bacterial infection affecting only superficial layers.
Severe cellulitis or a recurring cellulitis condition can damage surrounding tissues of lymph nodes, and may lead to scarring that’ll increase risk of secondary lymphedema. Lymphedema, or obstruction of the lymphatic system, can weaken the immune system and result in excess fluid in parts of the body, weakness in fighting infections, and less absorption of lipid nutrients. Visible skin symptoms of Lymphadema include skin discoloration, blisters, and leaking of fluid from the skin. Individuals can also have head and neck issues with breathing, swallowing, talking, and drooling.
In order to prevent cellulitis and other bacterial infections after an injury, take the following precautions:
- Wash the wound with soap and water daily — must do gently
- Apply a protective cream or ointment, such as Vaseline, Aquaphor, and Polysporin to protect skin
- Cover wound with a bandage
- Wash for signs of an infection, such as redness, swelling, tenderness, and pain.
Good skin habits are also vital preventive measures, especially for individuals with poor blood circulation:
- Monitor feet regularly to check for signs of injury
- Moisturize skin constantly to prevent cracking and peeling. Do not apply moisturizer to open sores.
- Carefully trim fingernails and toenails to avoid injuring surrounding skin.
- Protect your hands and feet.
- Promptly treat superficial skin infections such as athlete’s foot.
Diagnosis first consists of a doctor evaluation, and may require a blood test to rule out other conditions. Cellulitis is generally treated with a prescribed oral antibiotic that has a 5-10 day regimen. In most cases, symptoms will improve within 7-10 days after administration. There are also home remedies to alleviate swelling, such as placing a cool cloth on the affected area and elevating it. Ask your doctor for any additional recommendations. More severe infections may require intravenous antibiotics. It’s crucial to take medication consistently and as advised, as skipping days may cause bacterial resistance and worse symptoms after initial improvement.