What is Cellulitis
The term “cellulitis” refers to an infection of the skin and the soft tissue beneath it. It can occur when bacteria get past the protective tough outer layer of the skin. This can happen through any scrape, nick, or cut, however small.
Cellulitis, like any other infection, can become a medical emergency if not treated quickly. This can usually be done using common antibiotics. Consequently most patients make a full recovery. The initial stages of infection are silent as the bacteria multiply. Signs and symptoms then begin to appear. These include visible redness, a feeling of warmth, pain or discomfort.
Who Gets Cellulitis
Almost any person can develop cellulitis at any time. Certain people are at an increased risk, however. These include:
- Diabetics. Patients with diabetes are more at risk for some types of infections. Cellulitis among diabetic patients often appears on the lower legs, ankles, and feet.
- Skin damage. The bacteria which cause cellulitis need broken skin in order to enter the body.
- Vein disease- Patients with long term vein disease (reflux) are more ar risk to cellulitis and other infections. This is due to skin changes which can occur as blood pools in legs over months or years.
- Other circulation problems. Those with Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) often have decreased blood flow to the legs and feet. This can also make a patient more prone to infection. Chronic vein disease is one example.
- Chronic liver disease.- This mostly refers to liver infection (hepatitis) and scarring of the liver (cirrhosis).
- Other active skin conditions. -Psoriasis, eczema, and even chicken pox all increase the risk of cellulitis.
- Open sores or other skin defects. -These allow bacteria to enter the skin, just like a small nick or cut. Splinters and other foreign bodies can also easily push bacteria deep into the skin to cause infection.
Signs and symptoms of cellulitis:
In its earliest stages cellulitis causes no symptoms. It is during this period that the bacterial organisms responsible multiply and become established. This type of infection can (and does) occur anywhere on the body. Areas with poor circulation are especially vulnerable. These include legs and feet of diabetic patients and others with vascular issues. These areas are also prone to cuts, abrasions, and exposure to dirt. In other words, dirt combined with cuts makes feet doubly susceptible to infection.
Many of the signs and symptoms of cellulitis are actually the body’s immune response to the infection. No two patients or infections are exactly alike, yet the following are almost always present:
- Tenderness or pain
- Erythema (redness)
- A colored or clear discharge (less common)
- Drainage (the presence of pus, less common)
Cellulitis as a medical emergency:
An infection begins any time bacteria grows on or in the body. The body’s immune system is overcome. This makes sense. In conclusion, if the bacteria had been destroyed initially they wouldn’t multiply. Subsequently no infection would occur.
Most importantly, any infection can become a medical emergency. Above all, seek immediate attention if you or your Podiatrist notice any of these:
- Red streaks leading away from the initial site of infection.
- Nausea / vomiting.
- A high fever.
- Severe pain.
- Increase in swelling or a “hardening” of the area.
- A foul-smelling discharge
- Numbness or other sensory changes
Cellulitis making the diagnosis:
Above all, this common infection is well known to a most Podiatrists. Consequently, it is easy to diagnose. First your doctor begins with a medical history and physical exam. Many times the signs and symptoms they note are all that’s required to make a diagnosis. Therefore, this process is known as making a clinical diagnosis. In addition, if there’s any doubt then tests may be ordered:
- Complete blood lab testing
- An X-ray exam -if your podiatrist believes splinter or other foreign body is inside.
- A culture if you need to know the precise type of bacteria involved.