What Is Cellulitis?

What Is Cellulitis - Cellulitis as a Bacterial Infection

If you or someone close to you have ever experienced red, painful skin, with a glossy and swollen appearance, then you know what we are talking about today. Yes, you are correct – today’s topic is cellulitis, the famous skin condition that raises multiple questions when it comes to causes, methods of prevention, and treatment.

However, if you haven’t heard about this condition, the first thing to know is that cellulitis is nothing like cellulite. Although they both affect the largest organ on the body, cellulitis is a bacterial infection and, therefore, requires more attention and treatment. To remind you, cellulite forms bumps and dimples on the skin without causing any pain. It is commonly found in women, due to a disposition of fat cells and connective tissues.

Since there are several misconceptions about cellulitis, we decided to share everything we know, and hopefully help you, if you are experiencing this inflammation of the subcutaneous connective tissues of the skin.

So, let’s start with some common questions.


What Is Cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a prevalent bacterial skin infection. Although statistics indicate that it is relatively common, one can never be sure because it generally goes without being reported. Even though cellulitis can occur at any age, individuals 45 years or older are at increased risk. The elderly too are especially susceptible to developing cellulitis.

Cellulitis Affecting Older People

How does cellulitis manifest? The skin that is affected by cellulitis is usually red, swollen, and warm to the touch. If you are wondering how you can tell the difference between cellulitis and an insect bite, trust me, you will easily spot the difference.

Cellulitis is much more unpleasant and painful than a mosquito or spider bite.

On the other hand, as Medicinenet.com states, cellulitis can often be mistaken for stasis dermatitis, a skin condition which has similar symptoms and is caused by poor circulation. That is why we highly recommend visiting your doctor and getting properly diagnosed.

So, how can you get cellulitis? Well, there are several causes of cellulitis. From the beginning you should know, cellulitis does not discriminate. It can affect people of all ages and races, men and women alike. However, statistically, it usually affects middle-aged and older persons.

All these questions lead us to one of the most asked: is cellulitis contagious? No, cellulitis is not contagious for the simple reason–the tissue gets infected in the deepest layers, while the top layer of the skin provides protection.

Before reading further, please remember that cellulitis can spread in the bloodstream or lymph nodes. That being said, cellulitis is just like any other infection – if it is not treated, it can become life-threatening. That is why it is important to get to know every aspect of it.



Streptococcus and Staphylococcus are the pathogens that are mostly associated with cellulitis. The condition occurs when these microorganisms that normally reside on the skin penetrate the protective barrier.

Depending on which pathogen enters the tissue, there are different types of cellulitis. For example, erysipelas is caused by the strep and is manifested as a bright, red, hot area on the skin. This sort of cellulitis is most commonly found in children. On the other hand, although cellulitis is well-known as a bacterial infection on the leg, it affects other body parts too. There are several types of cellulitis:

  • Breast cellulitis
  • Facial cellulitis (most commonly found on cheeks or nose)
  • Periorbital cellulitis (affecting the region around the eyes)
  • Perianal cellulitis which occurs around the anal orifice

Bacteria can enter the skin through abrasions, blisters, burns, or insect bites. They can also appear in conjunction with skin disorders such as eczema and athlete’s foot.

Besides, drugs that suppress your immune system increase your risk of cellulitis. They ask for medications that prevent organ rejection, treat autoimmune disorders and inflammatory conditions, such as asthma and psoriasis. Your chances of getting cellulitis increases if your immune system is weakened.

Pregnancy, obesity, and other conditions that reduce your circulation, also make you susceptible to cellulitis.


Are There Any Other Causes of Cellulitis?

Diabetes as the Cause of Cellulitis
Yes, there are. Cellulitis is not just caused by a certain type of pathogen. Multiple bacteria can cause it. For example, according to Medicine.net, in children under 6 years of age, Haemophilus influenzae bacteria can cause cellulitis. The list only goes on with bacteria that can be transmitted from dogs, or even from contaminated fresh or seawater.

Other not so familiar causes of cellulitis are poor blood circulation and diabetes. Poor circulation can affect a body’s ability to protect from infections properly. Diabetes, if not treated, can easily weaken the immune system, which automatically makes you susceptible to getting cellulitis.

The final cause of cellulitis is not using clean needles. More precisely, intravenous drug users tend to suffer from this infection due to using the same needle over and over again.


Symptoms of Cellulitis

Cellulitis is inflammation in the subcutaneous tissue. This is the layer beneath the skin’s surface. It inflames the lower dermis layers, and in addition to your skin, infects other connective tissues.

The symptoms of the disorder include swelling, warmth, redness, and tenderness or pain in the infected area. Other symptoms are fever, chills, sweating, and fatigue. Patients can also experience pain and joint stiffness. The most commonly infected areas include the lower portion of the legs, arms, neck, and head.

The infection can migrate to the lymph nodes and cause them to swell. If the infection reaches the bloodstream, it can cause life-threatening complications.


How To Diagnose Cellulitis?

Diagnosing Cellulitis
A doctor will perform a physical examination and document the patient’s medical history. During the exam, the doctor will check the patient for symptoms commonly associated with cellulitis. The physician may request a full blood report on bacterial infection. Usually, an elevated white blood cell count raises red flags and will help diagnose the infection.

If you are thinking about diagnosing yourself, we believe there is a high chance you will be able to recognize cellulitis on your own. However, it is always a good idea to pay a visit to the physician. The doctor will examine the affected area by looking and touching it, or by requesting a blood report, as mentioned before.

Keep in mind that, in some cases, your doctor may not provide a prescription after the first appointment in order to see whether or not the swelling and the redness spreads. However, if you are experiencing severe pain and high temperature, you should mention it to the doctor, and he/she will make sure you start with the treatment as soon as possible.



Treating Cellulitis with Antibiotics
The primary treatment for cellulitis is antibiotics. These medications may be derivatives of penicillin or other types of antibiotics that are effective against streptococcal and staphylococcal infections. The good news is that many antibiotics can be used to treat cellulitis. The type of medications your doctor prescribes will depend on what he/she thinks might be the cause, i.e., precisely which bacteria penetrated to the deepest layers of the tissue. If the infection is resistant to oral antibiotics or the patient is allergic, intravenous medications may be required. The location and extent of the infection, along with your medical history, will also determine the appropriate treatment for your condition.

How long should you take antibiotics? The answer depends on your state and the severity of the cellulitis. The most common are 10-day or 21-day regimens of antibiotics. The first effects of antibiotics are usually seen a couple of days after taking them. That said, the crucial part of treating this inflammation is to be consistent: if your condition is starting to improve that doesn’t mean you should stop taking antibiotics. Also, a physician can prescribe pain relievers if you are experiencing too much pain.

In cases where cellulitis symptoms are serious (high temperature, no improvement after taking antibiotics, high blood pressure), and risk factors are higher than expected, your doctor will suggest hospitalization.


Why Is It So Important To Treat Cellulitis?

How serious is cellulitis? Well, pretty serious. So much so that it can cause multiple complications, which can be life-threatening. Three significant complications of cellulitis are: damaging lymphatic system, getting into the bloodstream, and spreading to the deeper layer of the tissue.

No matter how or where cellulitis spreads, there are several conditions it can cause:
Gangrene, blood or bone infection, and inflammation of the lymph vessels.



Gangrene, or tissue death, one of the conditions caused by cellulitis, occurs when a tissue is not getting enough blood from the circulatory system. It typically starts with a certain part of the body, like leg and arm, but can also affect internal organs. Why is gangrene life-threatening? The answer is simpleーif not treated properly and on time, it can cause the body to go into shock. Without getting into too many details, a shock is a state that is considered to be a medical emergency.

The good news is that gangrene is easily spotted. If you notice that the wound is red, sore, and gives off a bad smell, while your whole body feels cold, be sure to rush to the emergency room.


Blood or Bone Infection

Blood infection, septicemia or blood poisoning, is a condition in which a bacterial infection gets into the bloodstream. What makes septicemia dangerous is that the toxins are carried all the way through the body, which is when sepsis occurs. When the whole body becomes infected organs start to fail.

Bone infection is caused by the bacterial infection in the bloodstream when the bacteria infection in question invades the bone. The worst thing about a bone infection is that it can occur suddenly, or can be present for a long time without you being aware. If you want to find out more about this condition, be sure to check the Healthline.com article on this matter.

Inflammation of the Lymph Vessels
The third condition is the inflammation of the lymph vessels. Lymph vessels consist of lymph nodes, which are small organs containing immune cells. These cells protect you from viruses and other foreign invaders. Lymph nodes can be found in the armpits, neck, and groin.

So, what does inflammation of the lymph node or vessel look like? Symptoms of this type of inflammation are swollen nodes, fever, runny nose, and night sweats. Keep in mind that lymph nodes inflammation is most commonly diagnosed through physical examination, so if you have any suspicions be sure to pay a visit to the doctor.

Please remember that all of the stated conditions can be fatal if not treated on time.



Keeping an Eye on the Hygiene to Prevent Cellulitis
Practicing good hygiene, wearing protective clothing, treating wounds, and taking precautions to avoid chronic swelling can prevent many cases of cellulitis. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of good hygiene. Be sure to keep an eye on your skin and moisturize regularly, if you notice your skin is cracked or dry. This is especially important during fall and winter when the skin is naturally drier than usual. Here’s another tip: Be sure to treat a wound with antibiotic liquid or ointment as soon as it is inflicted.

On the other hand, if you are predisposed to developing the condition, or have a weakened immune system, you may not be able to prevent the disease. For people with healthy immune systems, safeguarding the skin is the best way to prevent cellulitis. If you are looking for a way to boost the immune system and prepare your body for the fall, be sure to get your hands on this article I wrote a year ago.


Let’s Recap!

Here are a few takeaways about cellulitis you should pay attention to and remember:

  • Cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection. It can affect people of any race and age, although it is most commonly found in people over 45 years old.
  • It manifests as red, swollen skin that is usually warm to the touch. The affected area seems to be like a “glass” and extremely tight. There is an obvious difference between cellulitis and insect bitesーcellulitis is far more painful.
  • Cellulitis is caused by multiple bacteria, two of them being streptococcus and staphylococcus.
  • There are several types of this condition depending on which part it can be found.
  • There are many causes of cellulitis, the most prominent is having a weakened immune system. Also, cellulitis can be triggered by eczema, obesity, pregnancy, diabetes, etc.
  • There is more to cellulitis than just red, painful skin. Other symptoms are fever, chills, sweating, and fatigue.
  • Cellulitis is not contagious but can be life-threatening.
  • To get diagnosed properly, be sure to visit your physician. Cellulitis is treated with different types of antibiotics, depending on which bacteria caused it. Your body should respond pretty quickly to medications. If that is not the case, hospitalization is a must.
  • Is there a chance to prevent getting cellulitis? Yes, of course! Practice good hygiene, moisturize the skin and be sure to boost the immune system.

Have you or maybe someone close to you ever had cellulitis? What was your experience, and how long did it take you to recover? Share your thoughts with Ecellulitis community in the comment section below!

Credit image: DepositPhotos.com

Last article update: 8/12/2018