Cellulitis is a diffuse inflammation of connective tissue with severe inflammation of dermal and subcutaneous layers of the skin.
Cellulitis can be caused by normal skin flora or by exogenous bacteria, and often occurs where the skin has previously been broken: cracks in the skin, cuts, blisters, burns, insect bites, surgical wounds, or sites of intravenous catheter insertion.
Skin on the face or lower legs is most commonly affected by this infection, though cellulitis can occur on any part of the body. The mainstay of therapy remains treatment with appropriate antibiotics.
Erysipelas is the term used for a more superficial infection of the dermis and upper subcutaneous layer that presents clinically with a well defined edge. Erysipelas and cellulitis often coexist, so it is often difficult to make a distinction between the two.
Cellulitis is unrelated (except etymologically) to cellulite, a cosmetic condition featuring dimpling of the skin.
The elderly and those with immunodeficiency (a weakened immune system) are especially vulnerable to contracting cellulitis.
Diabetics are more susceptible to cellulitis than the general population because of impairment of the immune system; they are especially prone to cellulitis in the feet because the disease causes impairment of blood circulation in the legs leading to diabetic foot/foot ulcers.
Poor control of blood glucose levels allows bacteria to grow more rapidly in the affected tissue and facilitates rapid progression if the infection enters the bloodstream. Neural degeneration in diabetes means these ulcers may not be painful and thus often become infected.
Immunosuppressive drugs, and other illnesses or infections that weaken the immune system are also factors that make infection more likely. Chickenpox and shingles often result in blisters that break open, providing a gap in the skin through which bacteria can enter. Lymphedema, which causes swelling on the arms and/or legs, can also put an individual at risk.
Diseases that affect blood circulation in the legs and feet, such as chronic venous insufficiency and varicose veins, are also risk factors for cellulitis.
Cellulitis is also extremely prevalent among dense populations sharing hygiene facilities and common living quarters, such as military installations, college dormitories, and homeless shelters.
Any wound should be cleaned and dressed appropriately. Changing bandages daily or when they become wet or dirty will reduce the risk of contracting cellulitis. Medical advice should be sought for any wounds that are deep or dirty and when there is concern about retained foreign bodies.
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