What is Cellulitis? Learn About This Potentially Life-Threatening Condition

Page content

What is cellulitis? Cellulitis is a bacterial infection that affects deep layers of the skin. It can appear as topical redness and be accompanied by swelling and tenderness. It spreads rapidly and if it suspected, a physician should be consulted immediately. This is because cellulitis can spread quickly and can become dangerous.

Cellulitis Causes

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection. When tiny breaks or cracks in the skin are breached by the staphylococcus or streptococcus bacteria, cellulitis can occur. These two types of bacteria are not the only types that can cause it, but they are the most common.

Sites of wounds, punctures, and other skin openings can all be susceptible to infection resulting in cellulitis. Dry skin, due to the fine cracks and openings, is also susceptible.

Other risks for contracting cellulitis include having a weakened immune system, certain skin disorders, IV drug use and having lymphedema.

Symptoms of Cellulitis

Though it can appear anywhere on the body, cellulitis most commonly appears on the lower legs. When it appears, it can look like an area of redness and swelling. There may be tenderness, warmth in the area, pain and tenderness. These symptoms may or may not be accompanied by a fever.

Cellulitis Diagnosis

Though the skin’s appearance and the spreading of the redness may indicate cellulitis, a physician may request testing to rule out other possibilities. These tests can include blood work (white blood cell count included in this) and cultures of any wounds in or around the area. The doctor will want to be sure the problem is caused by bacteria and not something else, such as a blood clot.

Cellulitis Treatment

It is important that cellulitis be treated, because if it is not it can become life-threatening very quickly. Treatment can involve the use of a prescription antibiotic. The cellulitis and antibiotic effectiveness will need to be closely monitored because of the danger involved with cellulitis.

Patients who do not respond well to the oral antibiotics may need to be hospitalized for intravenous treatment.


If the cellulitis spreads below the skin, it can reach lymph nodes and other places in the body. This can cause other problems such as lymphatic drainage system damage.

Some rare cases have involved necrotizing fasciitis, which is more commonly known as flesh-eating strep. This infection is rated as an emergency situation and should be treated as such.


What is cellulitis? It is a common condition that should get immediate medical attention if it appears because it can spread quickly and become life-threatening quickly. This bacterial infection needs to be treated quickly and thoroughly. Patients must take the entire prescription given for treatment.


Levine, Norman, M.D. “Your Skin and Cellulitis” https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/guide/cellulitis

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Cellulitis” https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cellulitis/DS00450