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What is cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a spreading inflammation of the skin and the tissues directly beneath it. It is usually caused by a bacterial infection and can become serious if not treated with antibiotics.

If you think you or someone in your care has cellulitis, it's important to get medical attention soon as possible.

The main signs of cellulitis are skin that is red, painful, swollen, tender and warm to touch. People with severe cellulitis can get fever, blisters, chills, sweating and nausea, and might feel generally unwell.

Cellulitis often affects the lower leg, but can occur on any part of the body including the face. The infection may occur when bacteria enter the skin through an ulcer, cut or a scratch or an insect bite. However, it can occur without any visible damage to the skin.

Sometimes bacteria from cellulitis spread into the blood stream, which is called sepsis. This is a medical emergency.

People with cellulitis can quickly become very unwell and a small number of people may develop serious complications.

Illustration showing cellulitis.
Signs of cellulitis include red, painful, and swollen skin that is warm to touch. It can affect any part of the body.

Antibiotics are the main treatment, usually orally at home. Some people need treatment in hospital. Rest and elevation (raising) of an affected limb is also very important. In some cases the affected limb may need compression.

Follow the links below to find trusted information about cellulitis.

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Last reviewed: September 2020

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