In-home care for cellulitis and other skin infections
Cellulitis is an infection in the deeper layers of your skin. It can occur anywhere on the body, but adults usually get this infection on the arms or lower legs. In children, cellulitis often appears on the face or neck.
This condition requires prompt medical care. Without treatment, cellulitis can enter the bloodstream and infect other parts of your body.
What causes cellulitis?
Many different types of bacteria can cause cellulitis, including Streptococcus (strep) and Staphylococcus (staph). These bacteria are commonly found on healthy skin.
Usually, staph and strep won’t hurt you if your skin is intact. But a break in your skin can allow the bacteria to get inside and cause cellulitis.
Why does cellulitis affect the legs?
Cellulitis often occurs in the legs because the lower body is prone to breaks in the skin or poor circulation. Conditions that increase your risk of cellulitis include:
- Diabetic neuropathy, which affects up to half of all people with diabetes. With this condition, you might not notice cuts or injuries on your feet or legs.
- Dry skin and eczema
- Fungal infections like athlete’s foot
- Edema (swelling), which can make it easier for bacteria to infect the area
- Small scrapes or cuts, especially if you walk barefoot or wear open-toed shoes
What does cellulitis look like?
Cellulitis typically occurs in only one area and on one side of the body at a time. For example, it’s unusual to get cellulitis on both legs at once. If you have cellulitis, the affected area of your skin may be:
- Warm to the touch
Cellulitis can look different from person to person, causing red blotches, spots or streaks. Your skin may also have a pitted appearance that looks like an orange peel. In some cases, cellulitis can cause blisters, sores or bumps.
Cellulitis requires medical treatment because it can get worse and cause serious illness. More severe cases of cellulitis can lead to:
What kind of doctor diagnoses and treats cellulitis?
A primary care provider (PCP), such as a nurse practitioner, physician assistant, pediatrician or family physician can treat cellulitis. You can also get treatment from a dermatologist (skin specialist).
Usually, providers can identify cellulitis by looking at the area of infection and discussing your symptoms. In most cases, you don’t need a biopsy or other tests to diagnose cellulitis.
How dangerous is cellulitis?
Quick treatment with the right antibiotics can cure cellulitis. But without treatment, the infection can spread to your bloodstream and organs. Complications of untreated cellulitis include:
- Blood infection, which can be life-threatening
- Damage to your lymph vessels, which are part of your immune system
- Endocarditis, which causes swelling inside your heart’s chambers and valves
Is cellulitis contagious?
You cannot catch cellulitis from another person. But if you or a loved one has cellulitis or a skin infection, wash your hands often to avoid spreading bacteria. Follow your provider’s instructions for keeping the infection clean.
Can I treat cellulitis at home?
Don’t try to care for cellulitis with home remedies. Treatment requires antibiotics, which are only available by prescription. Contact a healthcare provider to get a proper diagnosis and treatment. Before you see your provider, keep the area clean and dry:
- Wash the affected area with soap and water
- Cover wounds with a sterile bandage
Your provider will give you more detailed instructions about caring for your skin and any open wounds.
What types of antibiotics treat cellulitis?
Many different antibiotics can treat cellulitis, including:
In most cases, you take oral antibiotics (by mouth) to treat cellulitis. More severe cases may require intravenous (IV) antibiotics (through a vein). While you are taking your antibiotics, over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can reduce pain. Ask your provider if these medications are safe for you to take, especially if you have other health conditions.
Your provider chooses a safe and effective antibiotic for you based on your symptoms and health history. Follow your provider’s instructions for when and how to take your medicine. Don’t take someone else’s antibiotics or medicine left over from a previous infection.
How long does cellulitis last?
Cellulitis will not go away on its own, so don’t wait to get care. Once you start taking antibiotics, the infection should get better within one to two days. If your symptoms don’t get better soon after you start your medicine, contact your provider.
Always finish all your antibiotics, even if the infection looks better. Talk to your provider if you have questions about your medicine, but don’t stop taking it without their approval.
Expert care for cellulitis without leaving home
You don’t need to leave home to get professional medical care. Our skilled, compassionate healthcare team comes to you. We are equipped with all the tools and supplies to treat cellulitis and other infections. We provide an accurate diagnosis and prescribe antibiotics when needed.
After your visit, we contact your PCP and provide them with all the information about your care. We accept most major insurance plans, including Medicare, and handle billing for you. A DispatchHealth visit costs the same as an urgent care visit — and much less than an emergency department visit.
If you have symptoms of cellulitis or a skin infection, contact us to schedule a home visit. We offer same-day appointments 365 days a year. Call us at 888-908-0553 or request an appointment online.
If you’re having an emergency, please call 911 or have someone drive you to the nearest emergency department.