Cellulitis, not to be confused with the unwanted and largely cosmetic scourge of ‘orange peel’ dimpling of the female thigh termed ‘cellulite’, is actually a bacterial infection of the deeper layers of the skin. It is incredibly easy for bugs and germs to enter skin that is not pliable or supple. Any conditions that give rise to inferior skin such as eczema, psoriasis or poor circulation can create tiny fissures or lesions through which bacteria can invade. Commonest seen culprits are the Streptococcus or ‘Strep’ and Staphylococcus or ‘Staph’ bacteria.
What is the most frequent causation of cellulitis of the leg?
Injuries such as cuts, deliberate incisions for surgery or accidental wounds, even insect bites theoretically are some of the most likely triggers of cellulitis of the leg.
But not everyone who experiences one of these listed incidences will go on to develop cellulitis of the leg; natural immunity should quash the invading legion.
Predisposing factors for cellulitis of the leg
First amongst these must be illnesses and disorders which compromise the immune system’s natural response so leukaemia, intended chemotherapy as a treatment and serious burns. Diabetes is a front runner too. Excessive blood sugar levels cause a build-up of plaque – fatty deposits – in the blood vessels leading to PAD, Peripheral Artery Disease. Passageways are narrowed, reducing blood flow or even hindering it completely in severe cases. Vulnerable categories must also include those who suffer from skin disorders which damage or compromise the protective properties of the skin layers.
What can you expect to see as symptoms of cellulitis in the leg?
The classic presentation of cellulitis in the leg gives rise to symptoms such as redness, filling and swelling which presents as taut, angry skin, tight and congested. The inflammation may feel hot even painful to the touch and can spread some distance from its original source if that is identifiable. The skin can blister and chronically develop pus-filled abscesses. The most likely location is the lower leg but infection can become more extensive if left untreated.
Some unmistakable pictures of cellulitis of the legs
Flick through these images, be warned, these pictures featuring cellulitis of the legs are graphic and not for the faint-hearted. Visual aids perhaps explain more clearly than words exactly what cellulitis is and how serious it can become if left untreated. Cellulitis does not really present as a rash or spots as these images demonstrate but either of these should be taken equally seriously and diagnosed quickly.
What is the treatment for cellulitis in the leg?
Prompt assessment should be sought immediately. If the patient is feeling unwell within themselves or appear to be suffering fever or confusion, then casualty or the Accident and Emergency Department at the nearest hospital is the best option.
The infection must be treated with antibiotics usually given orally. Severely affected sufferers may be admitted to hospital for IV – intravenous – support and close monitoring. Doctors may administer antibiotic injections. Most antibiotics used for treatment for cellulitis in the leg are penicillin based such as Amoxicillin and clear up the cellulitis within seven to ten days. Improvement should be witnessed within 72 hours. If there is no response or the condition worsens then this must be reported promptly to the doctor who may need to alter the choice of drug, increase the dose or consider hospitalisation. Healthcare professionals may draw the outline of the infection with pen on your leg, this is to monitor the size and any potential spread.
The support of home remedies
Much can be done to help support the patient although home remedies should be employed in conjunction with antibiotic medication not instead of. Apply cool gel or ice packs to the affected area for periods of no longer than twenty minutes. Rest with the leg elevated above the body to help promote fluid drainage back to the heart.
Intersperse rest with light exercise. Movement promotes circulation which supports healthy lymphatic drainage. Wear loose cotton trousers and keep the skin clean. If there is a point of entry that caused the cellulitis whether accidental or deliberate, this wound must be cleaned and covered to prevent further re-infection.
Complications can arise in some cases
The famous British media presenter, Vanessa Feltz, experienced what was initially diagnosed as bacterial cellulitis a couple of weeks after she had tripped over and grazed the knee of her right leg leaving an art exhibition, just trivial, a typical ‘school girls knee’. Her leg became bright red and swollen and incredibly painful. In fact, what she was suffering from was Necrotising Fasciitis, otherwise known in colloquial terms as, flesh-eating disease. Her left leg remained unaffected.
This is a rare reaction to the group A strep bacteria which can cause cellulitis as well as common everyday throat infections. Television commitments meant Ms Feltz was slow to react to the unfolding drama. Never ignore cellulitis as it can spread rapidly. If the treatment you are prescribed doesn’t seem to be working then it is really important to take swift action and seek further qualified advice.
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