Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Rhianna McClymont

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Cellulitis is a skin infection caused by bacteria. It can be triggered by damage to the skin and needs treatment. Discover the symptoms and when to seek help.

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:

  • Red

  • Hot to touch

  • Tender

  • Swollen

With more severe cellulitis infections, you may also have:

  • A temperature

  • Shivering or chills

  • Dizziness

  • 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

  • Other skin conditions, like athlete’s foot, eczema or psoriasis, which cause the skin to dry out, crack or fissure

  • 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 treatment

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

  • Are obese 

  • 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

  • Inject drugs

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.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi