Cellulitis is a skin infection that’s treated with antibiotics. It can be serious if it’s not treated quickly.
See a GP if your skin is:
- red, hot and painful (it may also be swollen and blistered)
- you can also have swollen, painful glands
Treatment from a GP
For mild cellulitis affecting a small area of skin, your GP will prescribe antibiotic tablets – usually for a week.
Your symptoms might get worse in the first 48 hours of treatment, but should then start to improve.
It’s important to keep taking antibiotics until they’re finished, even when you feel better.
Most people make a full recovery after 7 to 10 days.
If your cellulitis is severe, your GP might refer you to hospital for treatment.
To stop cellulitis recurring
Some people with recurring cellulitis might be prescribed low-dose long-term antibiotics to stop infections coming back.
Things you can do yourself
As well as taking antibiotics, you can help speed up your recovery by:
- taking paracetamol or ibuprofen for the pain
- raising the affected body part on a pillow or chair when you’re sitting or lying down to reduce swelling
- regularly moving the joint near the affected body part, such as your wrist or ankle, to stop it getting stiff
- drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration
- not wearing compression stockings until you’re better
You can reduce the chances of getting cellulitis again by:
- keeping skin clean and well moisturised
- cleaning any cuts or wounds, or using antiseptic cream
- preventing cuts and scrapes by wearing appropriate clothing and footwear
- wearing gloves if working outside
If not treated quickly, the infection can spread to other parts of the body, such as the blood, muscles and bones.
What causes cellulitis
Cellulitis is usually caused by a bacterial infection. The bacteria can infect the deeper layers of your skin if it’s broken – for example, because of an insect bite or cut, or if it’s cracked and dry.
Sometimes the break in the skin is too small to notice.
You can’t catch cellulitis from another person as it affects the deeper layers of the skin.
You’re more at risk of cellulitis if you:
- have poor circulation in your arms, legs, hands or feet – for example, because you’re overweight
- find it difficult to move around
- have a weakened immune system because of chemotherapy treatment or diabetes
- have bedsores (pressure ulcers)
- have lymphoedema, which causes fluid build-up under the skin
- inject drugs
- have a wound from surgery
- have had cellulitis before
People who are more at risk of cellulitis should treat any athlete’s foot promptly.