Cellulitis is a bacterial infection usually caused by streptococcal or staphylococcal bacteria. The bacteria infect the deeper layers of skin, causing it to become red and swollen on the surface. The signs and symptoms of this painful condition can develop anywhere on the body, though the legs are most commonly affected. Treatment with antibiotics is required to reduce the symptoms of cellulitis and control the spread of infection.
Any infection can cause a fever because microbes, especially bacteria, stimulate the body to release certain substances in the body that promote fever. Infections may also directly affect the area of the brain that controls the body's temperature. Cellulitis can cause body temperatures to rise above 100.4 F (38.0 C) and can also lead to chills, sweating, and shaking. If a fever persists for more than a day or rises higher than 104 degrees, see a doctor immediately.
Cellulitis can affect the eyelid, causing redness and swelling of the eyelids and around the eye. The swelling is the body's natural attempt to reduce the spread of infection. Most people with cellulitis, particularly children, develop this sign of the infection. It may become difficult to open the eye. In severe cases, the infection can spread to the eye socket or eye itself (a condition called orbital cellulitis) and possibly further, reaching the brain and spinal cord or causing sepsis.
Sometimes, the area of the body affected by cellulitis becomes dark red, with streaks. These red streaks in the affected area may indicate that the infection is spreading along the lymph vessels. The skin becomes warmer and sensitive to touch.
Weeping fluid is a common symptom of cellulitis. Abscesses that develop on the skin may begin to leak yellow, translucent fluid under the skin and this can result in large blisters. The build-up of bacteria and dead white blood cells causes these blisters. Antibiotics can help clear out the abscess, and a doctor may drain the fluid through a small incision in the skin.
Often, people with cellulitis complain of muscle aches and pain. A consistent throbbing sensation can suggest that the infection is spreading. When cellulitis begins to damage the lymph nodes, people may start to experience discomfort and muscle aches that are felt persistently or come and go. Muscle aches and pain are triggered by the inflammation or swelling of the affected areas.
Cellulitis can leave individuals feeling fatigued, regardless of how well they are sleeping at night. Infections are a common cause of fatigue, as the immune system is fighting the bacteria. This symptom involves a general feeling of illness and may involve a loss of appetite and constant headache as well. The severity of these symptoms varies from person to person, and energy levels should improve once the infection is treated.
Cellulitis typically starts with a rash or a sore before the texture and color of the skin begin to change. Sores or rashes caused by this condition often spread quickly within the first 24 hours and become itchy and painful. As the tissue below the surface of the skin becomes infected, the rash will become more prominent. As the infection spreads, redness and inflammation increase.
Though certainly not exclusive to cellulitis, an individual with the condition is likely to experience nausea and vomiting as the infection continues to spread. These symptoms can also result in a loss of appetite and may linger or pass quickly.
Cellulitis makes the skin feel hot and tender and can lead to tight, glossy surfaces in the infected areas. As cellulitis spreads, these areas expand as well. Hardened, red areas may begin to protrude from the rest of the skin. Often, these areas are extremely painful upon even light contact and may become numb in severe cases.
Infection of the skin and the tissues below the skin can result in hair loss in the affected areas because the inflammation damages the hair follicles. Often, this sign is not permanent, and hair will begin to regrow once the condition has been cured.
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