Cellulitis is a skin disorder caused when certain bacteria get under your skin. Although an uncomfortable and unsightly condition, it is still a primarily cosmetic problem. Why then, are doctors so concerned when a patient has cellulitis?
The reason is because the bacteria responsible for cellulitis are most often from the staphylococcus and streptococcus families. In addition to harboring several antibiotic-resistant strains, these groups of bacteria are capable of causing spectacular damage if given the opportunity to spread from the skin to other areas of the body.
Recognizing the symptoms of cellulitis early and getting treated promptly is the best way to prevent these complications.
Top 5 Symptoms Of Cellulitis
1. Staph and strep bacteria: Staph and strep bacteria are commonplace in the environment and it is highly probably that one or both are present on your body at this very moment. Cellulitis arises when these culprits find a way in to your body; it doesn’t matter where. Consequently, cellulitis can arise anywhere on the body, although it occurs more often on the legs.
2. Inflammation: The most immediate and obvious symptom of cellulitis is the appearance of a red rash or inflammation. The rash is capable of spreading quickly and can appear as a set of spots, a single blotch, a set of streaks, or a limb-coating coloration. The rash may grow over the course of the infection and should be monitored for signs of change.
3. Pain: As you might imagine, housing hostile bacteria under your skin is not a pain-free event and the area is going to experience pain and tenderness as well.
4. Warm to the touch: When compared to the surrounding skin, the area affected by cellulitis is going to feel much warmer to the touch and have a tight, swollen, almost “glossy” appearance.
5. Blisters: In some cases, blisters will form at the site and can possibly begin to leak yellow or clear fluid or even pus as your body attempts to combat the infection.
Also Read: Top Home Remedies for Nasal Cellulitis
Treatment For Cellulitis
Should you show signs of cellulitis, talk to your doctor as soon as possible to be evaluated and get treatment options. Cellulitis treatment will likely involve oral antibiotics. Antibiotics will generally be taken anywhere from five days up until two weeks.
If you develop a fever or the rash appears to be spreading, seek medical attention immediately as this can possibly be a sign of a serious complication (see below).
Cases of cellulitis need to be monitored carefully for signs of complications. Your condition can worsen if the bacterium is able to penetrate into deeper levels of skin or travel elsewhere in the body. The exact symptoms you experience will depend on where the bacterium is moving to but some generalities can be made.
One of the more common symptoms in cases of cellulitis complications is the emergence of a fever. Cellulitis on its own does not normally cause your temperature to rise so the development of a fever means that the infection is beginning to affect broader parts of the body. Other symptoms to watch out for are chills, nausea or vomiting, rapid heart rate or breathing, and muscle pain.
The rash itself should also be monitored for signs of complications. If the rash appears to be growing in size or if the redness appears elsewhere on the body, it should be taken as a sign that the bacterium has begun spreading further. If the reddened area becomes swollen, stiff or hard, or becomes numb, this could be a sign that the bacteria has begun to affect deeper layers of the dermal tissue.
Three of the most dangerous complications of cellulitis are meningitis, septicemia (also known as blood poisoning), and gangrene. All of these conditions can result in long-term disability or death if not spotted and treated quickly:
- Meningitis: This is the inflammation of the membranes covering spinal cord and the brain and can happen when staph or strep bacteria travel through the blood stream. Fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, intense headache, sensitivity to light, changes in mental state (agitation, confusion, etc.), and dizziness are all potential symptoms as the membrane swells. Depending on where the swelling is located, you may also experience stiffness of the neck and a difficulty turning the head, possibly to the point of immobility.
- Gangrene: As the cellulitis infection spreads, you may experience enough swelling or loss of blood pressure that parts of the body become cut off from their oxygen supply. The result is gangrene: tissue death caused by oxygen starvation. The most visually noticeable symptoms of gangrene are the skin turning black or blue, though red or bronze-colored areas may appear if the affected tissue is below the skin instead. The area is also likely to hurt and tingle, followed by numbness. If there are any openings in the skin, a foul-smelling discharge can appear.
- Septicemia: If the bacteria reach the blood stream, the toxins will begin circulating throughout your entire body. Your body, to put it mildly, does not like this. Septicemia is a serious condition since it can result in sepsis, a full-body inflammatory reaction and loss of blood pressure that can become fatal extremely quickly.
Sepsis has three stages, but the first can be identified with the following acronym:
- Shivering, fever, or very cold
- Extreme pain or discomfort
- Pale or discolored skin
- Sleepy, difficult to rouse, or confused
- I feel like I might “die”
- Shortness of breath
The second stage is massive circulation disruption and clotting that features severe abdominal pain, decreased urine production, difficulty breathing, and gangrene among other un-pleasantries. The third stage is septic shock—a massive drop in blood pressure that causes organ failure and death without immediate medical intervention.
It should go without saying that if you have a cellulitis infection and show any of the signs of complications, you need to seek emergency medical attention at once.
Risk Factors for Cellulitis
As mentioned above, the most common causes of cellulitis are staph and strep bacteria, which are commonly present on the skin and other surfaces. This does not mean, however, that cellulitis is not more likely in some individuals than others:
- Patients with diabetes: Diabetes is one of the more prominent risk factors of developing cellulitis, especially in the lower limbs. This is because diabetics are more prone to low blood pressure and weaker immune systems, both of which can impact their chances of developing cellulitis. In fact, any condition that results in a weakened immune system such as being on immune suppressing drugs, having cancer, HIV, or being on corticosteroids can raise your likelihood of getting the disease.
- Cuts and sores: Since cellulitis requires the bacteria to find a way under your skin, anything that creates an opening can be considered a risk factor. This includes having any open cuts or sores, cracked skin, insect bites, or skin disorders like athlete’s foot, chickenpox, or eczema that create breaks in the skin.
- IV and needle use: Intravenous drug users are another risk group both because of the potential for contaminated needles and because IV and needle use in general is also a risk factor. This also applies to anyone who needs to have an IV or regular needle work done for medical reasons.
Cellulitis itself is not dangerous but it can lead to much more significant problems if not monitored properly. Learning the risks, signs, and symptoms of the disease can help both you and your doctor catch the problems early and before complications can arise.
Sources for Today’s Article:
“Cellulitis,” Mayo Clinic web site, February 11, 2015; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cellulitis/basics/risk-factors/con-20023471.
“Cellulitis,” MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, last updated May 15, 2013; 2015.https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000855.htm, last accessed January 8, 2016.
“Gangrene,” MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, last updated September 1, 2013; https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007218.htm, last accessed January 8, 2016.
“Meningitis,” MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, last updated January 7, 2014; https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000680.htm, last accessed January 8, 2016.
Normandin, B., “Cellulitis,” Healthline web site; http://www.healthline.com/health/cellulitis#Overview, last accessed January 8, 2016.
“Sepsis Questions and Answers,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site, October 5, 2015; http://www.cdc.gov/sepsis/basic/qa.html.