Cellulitis is a serious infection of the skin that needs medical attention; the bacteria that causes it invades the skin’s dermis and the underlying layer of subcutaneous fat. When this happens, there is a high probability that the bacteria will invade even further, become disseminated and affect your whole body. Untreated cellulitis has many complications, which include infections of the blood (sepsis), bone (osteomyelitis) and underlying muscle (necrotizing fasciitis). You can prevent these complications by simply going to the doctor and getting the appropriate treatment for cellulitis. Therefore, it is important to get treated when you have cellulitis.
Common organisms involved in cellulitis are streptococci and staphyloccoci. However, organisms, such as Clostridium and Pseudomonas, may cause more severe infections. These organisms become inoculated when the skin is not intact. In essence, when you lose the integrity of your skin, you become at risk for cellulitis. Cellulitis is characterized by signs of inflammation, such as redness, swelling, pain and warmth in the affected area of your skin. These symptoms may be accompanied with fever and chills, as well as tenderness of your lymph nodes. If you have these symptoms, you better consult your doctor immediately to prevent complications.
Treatments for cellulitis aim to kill the invading bacteria and decrease the signs of inflammation. For the first objective, antibiotics are typically given. For the second objective, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids may be given.
Antibiotics used for cellulitis vary. The narrow-spectrum antibiotics are called as such because they target a specific group of organisms. For instance, antibiotics targeting staphylococci include dicloxacillin and flucloxacillin, which can be administered either parenterally or orally. Broad-spectrum antibiotics, such as co-amoxiclav and ceftriaxone, are reserved for severe and complicated cases or for cases that have multiple causative agents. If you are a cellulitis patient who is already admitted to the hospital, broad-spectrum antibiotics may be administered to you intravenously or intramuscularly.
The type of antibiotic used to treat cellulitis is based on the diagnosis of the doctor. This diagnosis is often based on the information gathered by the doctor from you, as well as on your signs and symptoms. However, in difficult or complicated cases, or in case your initial treatment is not working, the doctor may also request for diagnostic tests, such as blood gram stain and culture, in order to fully identify the causative organism and to choose the right antibiotic.
NSAIDs and corticosteroids are essential parts of the treatment because they provide symptomatic relief. They can inhibit the release of prostaglandins, which are the primary inflammatory mediators. Therefore, they are able to decrease pain, swelling, redness and heat. Examples of NSAIDs are paracetamol (acetaminophen), ibuprofen and aspirin. Examples of corticosteroids are methylprednisolone and hydrocortisone. Always ask your doctor about possible side effects before using these anti-inflammatory agents.
Surgical excision and drainage may be part of the treatment for cellulitis, particularly if the affected area is already necrotic or dead. Drainage of the pus decreases the pressure and improves the blood and lymph circulation in the area.