Cellulitis – symptoms, causes and other risk factors

Celllulitis symptoms and causes

Cellulitis is a very common and potentially serious bacterial skin infection. Cellulitis appears as a swollen and red area of your skin which feels tender and hot. This infection can spread very quickly to other parts of your body. This infection is not spread from person to person. The skin on our lower leg is mostly affected but this condition can happen anywhere on your face or body. There are some cases when the cellulitis only affects the surface of your skin. But on the other hand there are other cases when cellulitis affects tissues underlying your skin and it can spread to your bloodstream and lymph nodes. If you left this condition untreated, then this spreading infection can rapidly turn into life – threatening condition. If you have noticed that the cellulitis symptoms happen, then you must talk with your doctor as soon as possible.

Symptoms of cellulitis

Here are the possible signs and symptoms of cellulitis, which can usually happen on one side of the body:

  • Skin dimpling
  • Blisters
  • Red spots
  • Fever
  • Warmth
  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling
  • You will have red area of skin that tends to expand

It is very important your doctor to identify and treat cellulitis because this condition can spread rapidly throughout your body. If you have a red, swollen and tender rash or a rash which is not changing rapidly, then you should seek emergency care. Also if you have fever, you should seek emergency care. Also you should see your doctor if you have a rash which is red, swollen, tender and warm and it is expanding but it is without fever. Your doctor may refer you to dermatologist which is doctor specialized in skin disorders. You need to tell your doctor all symptoms that you have and if you have used some natural cure or medicine tell him as well.

Causes of cellulitis

This condition is happening when bacteria (the most common bacteria are staphylococcus and streptococcus) enter through a break or crack in your skin. The incidence of a more serious staphylococcus infection called MRSA (methicillin – resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is increasing. This condition can happen anywhere on your body but most commonly is happening in your lower leg. Bacteria is most likely to enter disrupted areas of your skin such as dermatitis, athlete’s foot, an ulcer, puncture wounds, cuts and places where you have had recent surgery. There are some types of spider or insect bites which can transmit the bacteria which start this infection. These bacteria can also enter through swollen skin, dry skin or flaky skin. [1]

Risk factors: There are some factors which can increase your risk of developing cellulitis such as

  • Obesity: Being obese or overweight can increase your risk of developing cellulitis and having recurring episodes. [2]
  • Intravenous drug use: It is known fact that people who inject illegal drugs, have increased risk of developing cellulitis. [3]


  • If you have a history of cellulitis: We know that people who previously had cellulitis, especially on their lower leg, they be more prone to develop it again.
  • Chronic swelling of your arms or legs (lymphedema): Swollen tissue can crack and it can leave your skin vulnerable to bacterial infection. [4]
  • Skin conditions: Skin disorders, such as shingles, chickenpox, athlete’s foot and eczema, can cause breaks in your skin and they give bacteria an entry point.
  • Weakened immune system: There are some conditions which can weaken your immune system such as HIV/AIDS, leukemia and diabetes and they can leave you more susceptible to infections. There are some medications such as corticosteroids which can also weaken your immune system. [5]
  • Injury: Any scrape, burn or cut gives bacteria an entry point. [6]

Complications: The bacteria which are causing cellulitis can spread rapidly, entering your bloodstream and lymph nodes. Recurrent episodes of cellulitis can damage the lymphatic drainage system and it can cause chronic swelling of the affected limb. There are rare cases in which this infection can spread to the deep layer of tissue called the fascial lining. Necrotizing fasciitis (flesh – eating strep) is an example of a deep – layer infection. This  condition of cellulitis represents an extreme emergency.


[1] Herchline TE. How common is MRSA as a cause of cellulitis? Medscape. 2019. Retrieved from medscape.com/answers/214222-3106/how-common-is-mrsa-as-a-cause-of-cellulitis

[2] Cheong HS, Chang Y, Joo EJ, et al. Metabolic obesity phenotypes and risk of cellulitis: A cohort study. Journal of Clinical Medicine. 2019;8(7):953.

[3] Binswanger IA, Kral AH, Bluthenthal RN, et al. High prevalence of abscesses and cellulitis among community-recruited injection drug users in San Francisco. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2000;30(3):579-81.

[4] Al-Niaimi F, Cox N. Cellulitis and lymphoedema: A vicious cycle. Journal of Lymphoedema. 2009;4(2):38-42.

[5] Baddour LM, Googe PB, Prince TL. Possible role of cellular immunity: A case of cellulitis. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2001;32(1):e17-e21.

[6] Cellulitis. Advances in Skin & Wound Care. 2003;16(4):207. Retrieved from journals.lww.com/aswcjournal/fulltext/2003/07000/cellulitis.15


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