When it comes to your skin, there’s nothing quite as irritating (literally!) as waking up with an itchy rash that just won’t go away. While there are tons of different things that might cause a rashes, we’re here to talk to you about one in particular: cellulitis. No, it’s not that frustrating set of dimples on your thighs — that’s cellulite. Cellulitis, on the other hand, is a common skin infection that’s easily treatable. But if you let it linger, it can have serious complications. Keep reading for all the deets on cellulitis.
What is cellulitis?
Cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection that affects more than 14 million people in the U.S. each year… that’s almost 5% of the American population, or 1 in 20 people!
The majority of cellulitis rashes are caused by one of two types of bacteria: Streptococcus (a.k.a. strep) or Staphylococcus (a.k.a. Staph).
Fun fact: Both of these bacteria often live on our skin without causing any issues. It’s once the bacteria actually invades your body that you can get into trouble. In other words, if you have a cut or crack on your skin, these bacteria can worm their way in, and this can lead to the formation of cellulitis.
Eek! How can I tell if I have cellulitis?
This common skin infection can appear just about anywhere, but it usually shows up on legs and feet in adults and faces and necks on kids. A cellulitis rash will likely be red and swollen — it may even feel warm, tender, and painful when you touch it.
Before the rash actually appears, you may possibly experience other symptoms that signal you have an infection, like a fever, chills, extreme tiredness, pain, and/or nausea. In severe cellulitis cases, you might develop blisters on your rash and your lymph nodes that are closest to the rash could become swollen.
That sounds terrible! Who’s at risk for getting cellulitis?
Basically, everyone. That sounds scarier than it is, but just know that anyone can have sneaky bacteria enter their bodies if they have a crack or cut in their skin. That said, there are definitely some who are more susceptible to catching cellulitis than others. Those who are middle-aged (or older), overweight, or have diabetes have an increased risk, since these all of these factors make it harder for your body to fight infections.
Having certain conditions — like eczema, athlete’s foot, HIV, and kidney disease — also puts you at higher risk for cellulitis, because these conditions make it easier for icky bacteria to get inside your body… and harder for your body to get rid of them.
If you recently had surgery, are undergoing chemo, or are taking certain steroids, you also have a higher risk of contracting cellulitis. If you tend to experience a lot of skin injuries — say, you’re an athlete and get tons of blisters — you also have an increased chance of getting cellulitis. Finally, if you’ve ever had cellulitis in the past, then you are more likely to get it again.
How do I treat cellulitis?!
If you think you have cellulitis, book an appointment with a dermatologist ASAP so you can get a diagnosis. Once you know for sure that you have it, your doc will prescribe you oral antibiotics which you’ll have to take for 1-2 weeks to clear up the infection. While you’re on meds, it’s a good idea to cover up the infection, which will help it heal more quickly. If you have cellulitis on your leg — and your leg is swollen — you’ll want to keep it elevated, as this can help reduce the swelling. If you have another condition that caused bacteria to get into your body and give you cellulitis, then you’ll want to make sure to treat that condition as well.
Is there anything I can do to prevent getting cellulitis?
If you’ve had cellulitis, we think it’s pretty safe to say that you don’t want to deal with it again. Luckily, there are a few easy steps you can take to minimize your chances of another infection. For starters, try to avoid injuring your skin as much as possible. That means you should be super-careful when doing activities that could result in cuts, scrapes, or burns. If you do end up with any type of skin injury, take care of it the right way, right away. That means: always wash your wound thoroughly with soap and water, dab on an antibiotic cream, and cover your wound, cleaning the wound and changing the bandage daily. You should also be diligent about cleaning your skin on the reg (aka showering daily) which will help wash away bad bacteria, and moisturizing (aka slathering freshly washed skin with lotion) which will help ensure your skin doesn’t crack.
Dr. Ashley Steffens, a dermatology resident at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine (SIU), helped contribute to the accuracy of this story.