What is cellulitis?
Cellulitis is an infection of the skin that’s caused by a bacteria. It can affect anyone, but it’s more likely to occur if the normal protective skin layer has been damaged, as this allows bacteria to enter the skin more easily.
Cellulitis is also more common in those with a weakened immune system. Once you’ve had one episode of cellulitis, it’s more likely to recur again.
If cellulitis causes complications, it can be serious so it’s important to seek urgent medical help.
Symptoms of cellulitis
You’ll notice an area of skin that is:
Hot to touch
With more severe cellulitis infections, you may also have:
Shivering or chills
Nausea or vomiting
Cellulitis can occur anywhere on the body, but most commonly affects the hands, legs and feet.
What causes cellulitis?
Common causes of cellulitis include:
A wound – either from an injury or from surgery
An insect bite
Poor circulation – this prevents wounds healing as quickly and reduces skin quality, often causing dry skin and fluid build-up
A skin ulcer or pressure ulcer (bedsore)
Drug injection sites
Cellulitis needs prompt treatment with oral antibiotics. A GP will be able to prescribe appropriate antibiotics for cellulitis. In the majority of cases you will feel better after 48 hours and the symptoms should have entirely gone within 10 days.
If the cellulitis is spreading despite taking oral treatment, or it’s becoming more painful or swollen, you may need antibiotics administered through a vein, which requires assessment in hospital. This may also be the case if you develop other symptoms with cellulitis, like a temperature or vomiting.
If you get cellulitis often or the symptoms are severe, a GP may refer you to a dermatologist or infection specialist to discuss the option of taking antibiotics on a long-term basis.
Who is at risk of cellulitis?
Anyone can get cellulitis, but there’s a higher chance in people who:
Have had cellulitis before
Have poor circulation in the arms, legs, hands or feet
Have a weakened immune system – for example, because of HIV or chemotherapy
Have lymphoedema – a condition that causes fluid to build up under the skin
Have diabetes that isn’t well-managed
Making sure any underlying health issues are under control may help reduce your risk of getting cellulitis.
How to prevent cellulitis
It's not always possible to prevent cellulitis, but these measures may help reduce your risk:
Moisturise your skin if it’s dry or prone to cracking
Make sure you keep any cuts, grazes or bites clean – wash them under the tap straight away and cover them with a plaster or dressing
Make sure any conditions that can increase your risk of cellulitis are well managed – such as eczema, athlete's foot and leg ulcers
Wash your hands regularly
Lose weight if you have an obese BMI
When should I speak to a doctor?
It's important to seek help if you think you may have cellulitis. This is either through your GP or 111.
If the area of cellulitis is growing, despite taking oral antibiotics
If the cellulitis is getting rapidly worse
If you develop a temperature, or feel sick and unwell in yourself, despite taking antibiotics
If you have a weakened immune system or are taking medication to suppress the immune system
If you have diabetes
If you develop cellulitis around the eye
How can Livi help?
A Livi doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms. They’ll make an individual assessment, recommend a treatment or refer you to a specialist if needed.
- Reviewed by:
- Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi