Understanding Bacterial Skin Infections: Cellulitis

Cellulitis is among numerous bacterial skin infections that affect the connective tissue. The condition will cause severe swelling and irritation and is most commonly seen on the face or the legs, especially in areas with broken skin. Cellulitis can be treated with oral antibiotics and the removal of affected tissues when needed.

Causes of Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection that is caused by external bacteria, but may also be caused by an overgrowth of the existing bacteria from the existing skin flora.

The condition affects mostly broken skin that has been cut, burnt, bitten by insects or blistered. Surgical wounds, tattoos, injection sites and catheter insertion sites may also be affected. These areas are sensitive and external bacteria may attack the skin. Also, the skin flora, which is made up of bacteria and various other cells may overgrow leading to the infection of connective tissue.

People with dry skin or an existing skin infection or chronic condition are prone to developing cellulitis. Obese people can develop cellulitis due to the skin folds that can help the bacteria develop. Diabetics, immunocompromised and seniors are also more exposed to cellulitis.

Symptoms of Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a condition that is commonly seen on the face or the legs. The symptoms of cellulitis will include:

  • Red skin, the rash can be extended
  • Itchiness
  • Pain when touched

The infection may affect the superficial layers of the skin, but may also be deeper embedded in the skin tissues. If the infection enters the blood stream, the patient will experience symptoms such as fever, sweating, shaking and the inability to get warm.

Some patients may not present any severe symptoms, but the redness should be present in all cases. The symptoms may be similar to a blood clot blocking the blood vessels.

Diagnosing Cellulitis

Even if the appearance of the skin is sufficient for the doctor to suspect a bacterial infection, cellulitis can be detected only by performing a skin scraping test. The results will determine if the infection is bacterial of a different nature.

The doctor will also perform a few blood tests, to determine if the infection has entered the blood stream or has affected the neighboring lymph nodes. In rare cases, the infection is very severe and the skin cells will die, so the dermatologist will take a look at the skin.

Treatment Options

Most commonly, cellulitis will be treated with antibiotics. The treatment may last between 10 to 14 days and certain infections will clear within days, while others will require up to half a year to heal.

If the infection is more severe, the doctor will recommend intravenous antibiotics. Topical ointments that contain antibiotics or hydrocortisone may also be recommended to relieve the pain and the itchiness.

If the skin cells are dead, these should be removed immediately and only through surgery. If the affected skin is on the face, additional plastic surgeries will be required to repair the appearance of the face.

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