Cellulitis and abscesses are skin and soft tissue bacterial infections that can occur independently of one another. Each can compromise your health and often require specialty care. But when you develop both at the same time, the need for medical attention becomes urgent.
Dr. Manjulatha Badam of Vayu Advanced Wound Clinic & Hyperbarics in San Antonio, Texas, is an award-winning physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating nonhealing wounds of all types, including those related to cellulitis and other bacterial skin infections.
As part of her patient-first holistic approach to health care, Dr. Badam provides information to her patients that helps them make knowledgeable decisions about health care. Read her blog about cellulitis, abscesses, and the treatments available for these potentially life-threatening infections.
Understanding cellulitis and skin abscesses
Most often related to infections caused by streptococcus or staphylococcus bacteria, cellulitis and abscesses differ in appearance and symptomatology:
Usually involving the lower legs but possible elsewhere on your body, cellulitis occurs when a break in the skin allows bacteria to enter.
Symptoms typically include:
- An area of redness that tends to expand quickly
- Swelling and warmth at the site that may spread rapidly
- Varying degrees of tenderness and pain
- Fever, chills, and headache
- Dimpling of the skin in the infected area caused by swelling/edema around hair follicles
Blister and abscess formation in the affected area can signal worsening infection. Without treatment, cellulitis can spread to your bloodstream and lymph nodes, quickly becoming a life-threatening systemic (whole body) infection.
An abscess is a pocket of fluid or pus that can occur anywhere in your body. A skin abscess, sometimes called a boil, is an infection that occurs just under the skin’s surface.
Sometimes occurring as a worrisome complication of cellulitis, symptoms of skin abscess include:
- Painful, cystic-type lump that may resemble a pimple initially
- Redness, warmth, and swelling that may spread as the abscess enlarges
- Purulent, often malodorous, drainage from the abscess
- Fever, nausea, and chills with advancing infection
Most abscesses resolve without extensive care but complications of an untreated skin abscess, whether related to cellulitis or not, can include:
- Infection spreading to the brain, spinal cord, or bloodstream
- Endocarditis, infection of the inner lining of the heart
- Bone infection (osteomyelitis)
- Expanding tissue death
Even if you are already being treated for cellulitis, you should seek medical care immediately if you notice expanding redness, blistering, or abscess formation in the infected region.
Treating cellulitis and abscess
At Vayu Advanced Wound Care & Hyperbarics, we design personalized treatment plans that are tailored to meet your needs.
Cellulitis requires antibiotic treatment that may include oral medication, intravenous (IV) antibiotic therapy, or a combination of both. Depending on the level of infection, you may require hospitalization to monitor your response to treatment.
Skin abscesses require incision and drainage as well as follow-up wound care to ensure appropriate healing. Don’t attempt to drain the lesion yourself, since this can lead to worsening infection and new abscess formation.
Certain conditions increase your risk of developing cellulitis, including:
- Eczema, psoriasis, and other chronic skin conditions
- Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)
- Venous insufficiency
- Lower extremity swelling related to heart failure, kidney disease, and other illness
We may recommend further testing to rule out these issues as a cause of your cellulitis, especially if you have frequent episodes.
Preventing cellulitis and abscess
It’s not possible to prevent every incidence of cellulitis or skin abscess, but you can significantly decrease your risk by:
- Keeping your skin moisturized to prevent breaks in your skin, especially your feet
- Wearing shoes and taking other measures to prevent injury
- Nourishing your skin with appropriate diet and other healthy habits
- Managing diabetes, eczema, and other conditions that increase your risk of infection
- Avoiding prolonged standing, inactivity, and other habits that affect circulation
- Caring for skin wounds appropriately
For more tips on how to prevent skin infections, and/or an evaluation regarding cellulitis or any of the conditions we treat, schedule a visit at Vayu Advanced Wound Clinic & Hyperbarics in San Antonio, Texas today.