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Swollen face due to facial cellulitis.

Cellulitis is an infectious disease of the skin that may cause tenderness, swelling, and redness. Symptoms include fever, swollen lymph nodes, and possibly chills and sweating. Cellulitis can appear anywhere on the body, with the most common place being the leg.

Cellulitis should not be confused with cellulite; which is often the case due to their similar names. Cellulite is the “cottage cheese” effect seen on the surface of the skin, whereas cellulitis is a painful bacterial infection of the skin and tissues. The infection does not always stay on the surface of the skin, but can penetrate deeper into the tissues and can even enter the bloodstream and lymph nodes. It is also referred to as John Wayne’s Disease, because of the possible limp when walking. [1]

It is caused by the bacterium (Staphylococcus aureus) or (Streptococcus). There are six types of cellulitis: breast, facial, leg, orbital, periorbital, and perianal. Those who are most at risk for developing cellulitis are those with diabetes, chickenpox, swollen arms or legs (Lymphedema), infected injuries, weak immune system, such as babies, children and older adults. The treatment that doctors usually use is prescribing antibiotics.

In the early stages, cellulitis starts out in a small area causing tenderness, swelling, and redness. As the infection spreads, the person may begin to develop a fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a possibility of chills and sweating. If can appear anywhere on the body. Although the most common place is the leg, the arm, head and neck areas along with the abdomen or chest are also common locations where cellulitis is found. People who are obese are most likely to require treatment.[2] Cellulitis typically occurs when there is a cut in the skin that is not taken care of properly. Bacteria that is normally found on skin cells, can invade the lower layers of tissue and skin causing them to become infected. [3]

Causes and Symptoms

The cause of cellulitis is usually a bacteria. The most common bacteria that causes cellulitis is Staph (Staphylococcus aureus). This bacteria is dangerous because it is resistant to many antibiotics making it harder to treat. Another kind of bacteria that can cause cellulitis is Strep (Streptococcus). There are many other types that can cause cellulitis as well. Children under 6 can develop the H. flu (Haemophilus influenzae) which can cause cellulitis on the face, arms and torso. [4] Symptoms of cellulitis may include chills, sweating, muscle pains, tenderness, redness of the skin, tight and shinny appearance of the skin, and warmth over the infected area. Occasionally there is hair loss around the infection site and joint stiffness.[5] In children the symptoms affect the face, legs, arms and sometimes areas around the anus. This disease can be extremely dangerous because their immune systems would not be able to protect them for the infection. However in adults, cellulitis may appear near or around a surgical site, injury, burn, cut, etc. Cellulitis usually affects the leg but on occasion it may spread to other areas such as the face and ears. If a person has a weakened immune system, then the cellulitis will most likely return. Recurrence of cellulitis is common in those with fungal infections or diabetes. If there is a reoccurring infection in the leg, this could develop into a condition called elephantiasis, which is an enlargement of the tissues and skin. [6]


Breast Cellulitis

Breast cellulitis is caused by streptococcus. The leading reason why people develop breast cellulitis is breast cancer. Though breast cancer does not cause breast cellulitis, it does however, increase the person’s likelihood of developing it. [7]

Facial Cellulitis

This type of cellulitis occurs on the face. The risk factors for facial cellulitis are; problems in the lymphatic system, upper respiratory system infections, and infections of the ear and even teeth. One interesting symptom of facial cellulitis is a swollen, tender warm tongue. [8]

Orbital Cellulitis (a serious strep or staph infection of the skin).

Orbital and Periorbital Cellulitis

Orbital cellulitis is an infection that is around the eye. This includes the eye structures in the bony cavity of the face. The most common way people can develop orbital cellulitis is either from trauma or it can spread from other areas of the body. Periorbital cellulitis affects the area of the skin that is on the eyelid of the eye. Symptoms of these two infections include: swelling of the upper and lower eyelid, redness, decrease in vision, decrease in movement of the eyeball itself, and just general discomfort of the eye. [9]

Leg Cellulitis

Leg cellulitis is an infection of the leg. Redness, swelling, warmth, and pain are all symptoms of leg cellulitis. It can affect people of all ages. The leg is the most common area on the body where cellulitis develops. A streptococcus is the common bacterium that causes this kind of infection. However, in children under three years of age, Haemophilus influenzae type B is the number one leader in causing this serious infection. [10]

Perianal Cellulitis

Perianal cellulitis develops around the area of the anus. This infection is more commonly seen in boys rather than in girls. Bright red skin around the anus, discomfort in bowel movements, blood in feces, and itching around the anus are a few symptoms of this infection. Unlike all the other types of cellulitis, perianal cellulitis usually does not develop a fever or cause body aches and fatigue.[11]

Risks, Preventions and Treatments

Overall the risk factors vary from mild to extreme. Some general risk factors are;

More severe causes of cellulitis are;

  • Skin ulcers
  • Athlete’s foot
  • Eczema
  • Pregnancy
  • IV drug use
  • Diabetes, HIV, AIDS, leukemia and heart failure
    The healing process of cellulitis. From antibiotics.

[12]Those who are most at risk are those who are older due to their circulation that grows weaker, those with diabetes, chickenpox, swollen arms or legs (Lymphedema), infected injuries, weak immune system (such as babies), children and older adults, and just a general infection.[13]To prevent cellulitis the best steps to take daily are; Wash any wounds with soap and water, use antibiotic creams, watch for any signs of an infection, check the feet for any signs of injury, keep the skin moisturized, regulate the length of your finger and toenails, and wear the right shoes and gloves [14] In order to treat cellulitis, the infected area and any underlying tissues that became infected, need to heal; to do that, doctors usually prescribe antibiotics. Depending on the location of the infection and the severity of it, antibiotics are either given in the hospital or at home. Also, it would determine if the antibiotics are given through an IV or orally. Once a patient has been treated with an IV antibiotic, they are given an oral antibiotic for the rest of their treatment and healing process.[15]


  1. Cellulite or Cellulitis? Sick of ©2008-2010.
  2. Cellulitis ©1996-2010.
  3. What is cellulitis ©2003-2010, May 10, 2010.
  4. What causes cellulitis ©1996-2010.
  5. Causes ©1997-2010.
  6. Signs and Symptoms ©2010.
  7. Breast Cellulitis Arthur Schoenstadt, MD. ©2006-2010.
  8. Facial Cellulitis Arthur Schoenstadt, MD. ©2006-2010.
  9. Leg Cellulitis Children's Hospital. ©2005-2010.
  10. Leg Cellulitis Arthur Schoenstadt, MD. ©2006-2010.
  11. Perianal Cellulitis Arthur Schoenstadt, MD. ©2006-2010.
  12. Risk Factors ©2006-2009, 2010.
  13. Who is at risk ©2009.
  14. Prevention ©1998-2010.
  15. Cellulitis treatmentArthur Schoenstadt. ©2006-2010.

External links

Other Bacterial Diseases