Your skin usually deflects any bacteria it encounters, protecting you from all sorts of infections. However, when you get a bug bite or a rash, some of that bacteria can sneak in, potentially causing serious consequences.
For example, you might develop cellulitis – it’s the most common infection that occurs when bacteria breach the skin barrier. An estimated 1 in 503 people, or 0.2%, of the population get this painful red rash each year. It may happen after a bite or cut or if your skin gets so dry that it cracks and bleeds.
People are also reading…
When the infection happens, the area becomes painful, swollen, firm and warm. These symptoms can develop quickly, sometimes in less than 24 hours. It usually affects the feet or legs, but it can affect any part of the body – even your face. You might see red streaks or blisters in the afflicted area, and the skin can become dimply and, above all, very tender.
Most people who get cellulitis are middle-aged or older adults, but kids and younger adults can get it too. Aside from age and bad luck, risk factors include being overweight or having an immune system weakened from diabetes, cancer or HIV/AIDS. Circulation problems, such as long-standing leg swelling, also make people susceptible.
A variety of different bacteria can cause cellulitis. One of the most common culprits is Staphylococcus aureus – often called “staph.” Another common one is the same bacteria that is responsible for strep throat: Group A Streptococcus pyogenes.
Cellulitis is an infection of the deeper layers of the skin, and you can’t catch it from someone else.
To prevent cellulitis, protect your skin by wearing appropriate clothing. You should also wash skin immediately after an injury with soap and water. If you tend to have dry skin, use moisturizers to prevent any cracking.
Doctors and other medical practitioners can diagnose cellulitis by examining your skin. In some cases, doctors may culture or sample the bacteria from the skin or blood to find the culprit. Occasionally, there can be concern that it will form deeper pockets of infection. In those cases a doctor may order a CT scan or ultrasound test.
Is it cellulitis or something else?
Just as there’s a danger of not catching cellulitis before it causes more serious problems, there is also a risk that other diseases will be mistaken for cellulitis. This confusion is something we frequently see as dermatologists.
Stasis dermatitis, which is caused by swelling of the legs from leaky vein valves, is the most common condition that looks like cellulitis. Fortunately, the two can typically be distinguished, as stasis dermatitis tends to affect both legs. Cellulitis almost always only affects one leg or arm at a time.
A hematoma, a collection of clotted blood under the skin or other areas, can also occasionally mimic cellulitis. So can gout, a form of arthritis. Like cellulitis, it can be red and painful. However, gout most commonly occurs over a joint.
Marjorie Montanez-Wiscovich is affiliated with the University of Florida. She serves as principal investigator in clinical trials with Kiniksa Pharmaceuticals and DermTech.
Arthur Mark Samia does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
How to stay cool without air conditioning
Tips for staying safe in the heat this summer
Staying cool without AC
Take a cold shower or bath
Use cold washrags on your neck or wrists
Use box fans
Close your curtains or blinds
Sleep in breathable linens
Sleep in the basement
Don’t refrigerate or freeze blankets or clothing
Close the doors of unused rooms
Use the exhaust fan in your kitchen and/or bathroom
Install energy-efficient light bulbs
Cook in the morning, with a slow cooker or outside
Enjoy frozen treats
Research what your state offers
Sign up here to get the latest health & fitness updates in your inbox every week!
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.