If you notice a part of your skin turning red, swollen and hot and tender to the touch, then you may have a case of cellulitis. Not to be confused with cellulites (which are unsightly orange peel-like marks caused by fat deposits under the skin), cellulitis is a potentially serious bacterial infection that occurs in the dermis (the deep layer), as well as in the subcutaneous tissues — the fatty and soft layers — underneath your skin.
Bacteria Strains Can Lead to Cellulitis
Staphylococcus and Streptococcus bacteria are usually responsible for this skin ailment.1 These bacteria are usually found on the surface of your skin, although they do not cause any harm. However, if they manage to enter a crack or opening in your skin, such as a cut, wound, insect bite, surgical incision, burn or ulcer, that's when they become potentially dangerous.2
Sometimes, other bacteria, such as Pneumococcus, Hemophilus influenza and Clostridium, may lead to cellulitis.3 Cellulitis-causing bacteria may also enter your body through the lymphatic system or the blood.4 There are also risk factors that may increase your chanced of getting this illness, such as a weakened immune system, skin conditions like athlete’s foot or eczema, intravenous drug (IV) use and diabetes.5
Where Does Cellulitis Usually Manifest?
Cellulitis usually appears on the lower legs (especially in the shinbone, or the tibia and in the foot), although other parts of the body, including the face, may also become susceptible to the infection. When it affects the tissues underlying your skin, it can spread to your lymph nodes and bloodstream.6 There are also special types of cellulitis that are identified by the location of the infection. These include buccal cellulitis (cheek) and periorbital (around the eye socket) cellulitis.7
Common cellulitis infection symptoms include redness, pain, rash and warmth in the affected area. However, if the infection has become more severe, you may feel other symptoms such as shaking, muscle aches, sweating, fatigue and dizziness.8 You may also notice the red and tender area becoming more enlarged.
Be aware that cellulitis infection can rapidly spread throughout your body, so addressing it immediately is important to prevent it from causing further harm. If you experience fever, rapid breathing, confusion or disorientation and vomiting, there's a chance that the infection has spread to other areas of your body.9
Who Is at Risk for This Ailment?
Anyone of any age or race can get cellulitis, although middle-aged people and the elderly have a higher risk of this illness. Men and women appear to be equally affected by this common skin condition. However, certain groups of people, such as those who are morbidly obese, have a compromised immune system (HIV/AIDS patients) or are receiving chemotherapy drugs, have a higher risk of getting cellulitis infection.
Cellulitis is not contagious and cannot be passed from one person to another.10 However, complications may arise if the infection is not treated properly and immediately, and it may become life-threatening. The good news is that there are treatment protocols and lifestyle strategies that can help remedy this infection or help prevent it from occurring.