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Reviewed by Dr Claudia Pastides, 24th April 2019

Cellulitis is an infection which affects the deeper layers of your skin and the tissues which surround it. The affected area will look red and inflamed, and may feel hot to the touch. The condition most commonly occurs in the legs, but it can happen anywhere on the body, and affects all ages and genders.

Cellulitis can be serious if not treated quickly with the appropriate medication. The infection can spread deeper in the skin or to other areas of the body, causing sepsis, which is life-threatening if not treated. Read on to discover the early signs and symptoms of cellulitis - and speak with a doctor today if you believe you may be suffering from this condition.

Causes of cellulitis

Cellulitis is usually the result of a bacterial infection, which has entered the body through a cut, a graze or a bite. The bacteria spreads to the deeper layers of the skin, causing worsening symptoms. In rare cases, cellulitis can also be caused by fungal infections.

You may be more at risk of developing cellulitis if you:

  • Have had cellulitis before
  • Have poor circulation in your limbs
  • Are overweight and find it difficult to move around
  • Have a weakened immune system for any reason
  • Have diabetes
  • Are an intravenous drug user
  • Have lymphoedema, a condition where fluid builds up under the skin
  • Have a wound

If you fall into any of these categories and notice any of the signs or symptoms of cellulitis, speak with a doctor urgently.

Symptoms of cellulitis

Cellulitis causes skin to become swollen and red. It may be painful, and warm to the touch. As cellulitis is an infection, you may also notice some of the typical side effects of an infection, including a high temperature, nausea or swollen glands.

In some rare cases, cellulitis can develop into far more serious illnesses, including sepsis, or spread to other parts of the body. If you start to experience dizzy spells, feel cold or clammy, vomiting, heart palpitations, or if the affected area of skin expands rapidly, seek medical attention immediately.

Treatment for cellulitis

As with many infections, cellulitis is treated with a course of antibiotics. If your cellulitis is mild, you’ll probably be prescribed tablet antibiotics to clear the infection from your body. Most people make a full recovery within a week or so. In more serious cases, you may be referred to a hospital for treatment, where you can be more closely monitored. While you’re recovering, over the counter pain relief can help with discomfort, but speak to your doctor for advice. Drink plenty of fluids, regularly move the affected joint or limb, and keep the affected area elevated to reduce swelling.

If you think you might be suffering from cellulitis, contact a GP today for a diagnosis.