Cellulitis | Dermatology | JAMA Dermatology | JAMA Network
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JAMA Dermatology Patient Page
September 23, 2020

Cellulitis

Author Affiliations
  • 1Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University, Chicago, Illinois
  • 2School of Medicine, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts
  • 3Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 4Associate Editor, JAMA Dermatology
JAMA Dermatol. Published online September 23, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2020.2083

Cellulitis is a common infection of the deep layers of the skin, commonly caused by bacteria called Staphylococcus or Streptococcus.

Normally, skin acts as a barrier to protect our bodies from bacteria. When there is damage to this skin barrier, such as with a cut, eczema, or a bug bite, bacteria can enter through microscopic cracks in the skin and cause cellulitis. Sometimes cellulitis can occur without a clear cause. It is important to seek medical care if you think you have cellulitis, as this condition is easily treated with medicine prescribed by a physician. It may become serious if ignored.

Symptoms

Patients with cellulitis will have a red, painful rash. The rash can be anywhere on the body, but is most likely to occur on 1 leg. You may also experience swelling and warmth around the rash. If cellulitis is not treated with antibiotics, the rash can expand, which means that the infection is getting worse. Some other signs of worsening infection are feeling tired, fevers and chills, blisters around the rash, and tender or swollen lymph nodes (round/bean-shaped bumps that can get bigger with infection).

Diagnosis

Most diagnoses are made by closely examining your skin. However, if the diagnosis is not clear, your physician might also get blood samples and other tests.

Treatment

The best treatment for cellulitis is antibiotics prescribed by a physician. Depending on how severe your infection is, you may receive antibiotics as pills or intravenously (through your veins). Creams and salves that you can buy at a drugstore without a prescription are unlikely to be helpful and may be harmful. Most patients will take 5 to 10 days of antibiotic pills. You can expect your symptoms to get better and for your rash to get smaller within 1 to 2 days of receiving treatment. It is important to finish all of the medication. Keeping the affected area raised on something like a pillow can help the swelling go down. Most patients receiving treatment will recover completely from their infection without any lasting problems.

When to Seek Immediate Medical Care

If you think you have cellulitis, with symptoms like fever and chills, worsening pain, or spreading of your rash, see a physician immediately.

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Section Editor: Courtney Schadt, MD.
The JAMA Dermatology Patient Page is a public service of JAMA Dermatology. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA Dermatology suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, email reprints@jamanetwork.com.
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Article Information

Published Online: September 23, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2020.2083

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Mostaghimi reported personal fees from Pfizer, hims, and 3Derm and holds equity in hims and Lucid outside the submitted work. No other disclosures were reported.

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