Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and tissue just below the skin. The infection may occur anywhere on the body. It is most common on the lower legs.


Cellulitis is caused by a bacterial infection. It may come from bacteria that normally live on the skin or bacteria from other sources. The bacteria enter the skin through a cut or injury. The infection spreads into the surrounding skin.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase the chance of cellulitis include:
Puncture Wound
Puncture Wound
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Symptoms may begin within hours or days and can include:
Cellulitis near the eyes may cause pain with eye movements and should be treated right away.


You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor will also ask about exposure to natural bodies of water or animals. Your skin will be closely examined. The border of the cellulitis on your skin may be marked. This will help to monitor its progress
Tests may include:
In severe cases, the infection can lead to tissue death known as gangrene. It can also spread to the bone or other structures.
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:


The goal is to eliminate the infection and reduce discomfort. Most cases resolve after 1-2 weeks of treatment.
Hospital care may be needed if you have:
Treatment includes:


Antibiotics may be taken by mouth or injected into a muscle or vein. The method will depend on the severity of the infection. The antibiotic chosen will depend on the bacteria causing the infection. Pain medication may also be prescribed.

Supportive Care

This may include:
  • Elevating the infected area higher than your heart
  • Changing any dressings as directed by your doctor
  • Applying warm compresses
  • Protecting your skin from additional injury
  • Avoiding scratching or rubbing the area

Other Treatments

If you have an infected wound, it will need to be cleaned. Dead tissue may be removed. In certain situations, a collection of pus may develop. This is called an abscess. It can be drained.


To help reduce your chance of cellulitis:


American Academy of Dermatology

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases


Canadian Dermatology Association

Health Canada


Cellulitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated July 13, 2015. Accessed August 5, 2015.

Cellulitis and erysipelas. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website. Available at: Updated November 8, 2013. Accessed August 5, 2015.

Stevens DL, Bisno AL, Chambers HF, et al. Practice guidelines for the diagnosis and management of skin and soft tissue infections: 2014 update by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clin Infect Dis. 2014;59(2):147-159.

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