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How is cellulitis diagnosed, and what is the treatment for cellulitis?

First, it is crucial for the doctor to distinguish whether or not the inflammation is due to an infection. The history and physical exam can provide clues in this regard, as can sometimes an elevated white blood cell count. A culture for bacteria may also be of value, but in many cases of cellulitis, the concentration of bacteria may be low and cultures fail to demonstrate the causative organism. In this situation, cellulitis is commonly treated with antibiotics that are designed to eradicate the most likely bacteria to cause the particular form of cellulitis.

When it is difficult or impossible to distinguish whether or not the inflammation is due to an infection, doctors sometimes treat with antibiotics just to be sure. If the condition does not respond, it may need to be addressed by different methods dealing with types of inflammation that are not infected. For example, if the inflammation is thought to be due to an autoimmune disorder, treatment may be with a corticosteroid.

Antibiotics, such as derivatives of penicillin or other types of antibiotics that are effective against the responsible bacteria, are used to treat cellulitis. If the bacteria turn out to be resistant to the chosen antibiotics, or in patients who are allergic to penicillin, other appropriate antibiotics can be substituted. Sometimes the treatment requires the administration of intravenous antibiotics in a hospital setting, since oral antibiotics may not always provide sufficient penetration of the inflamed tissues to be effective. In certain cases, intravenous antibiotics can be administered at home.

In all cases, physicians choose a treatment based upon many factors, including the location and extent of the infection, the type of bacteria causing the infection, and the overall health status of the patient.

Return to Cellulitis

See what others are saying

Comment from: Jan, 75 or over Female (Patient) Published: January 03

I dropped a heavy bookend on my toe and it was cut deeply. A few days later, I felt like the bones in the top of my foot were broken and hurting. A knot came up (I am on blood thinner - Eliquis). Then my foot turned purple red from toes to ankle. I had severe pain and could not put any pressure on it. Next week, my hand did the same thing. I took Cipro, then clindamycin. A week later I went to the emergency room and had antibiotics through IV. During the next week all started fading away. It took most of the month of December for this cellulitis to run its course.

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Comment from: Gail, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: May 17

I noticed a small red bump on my top right breast after working in the garden. I thought it could have been an ant bite. I took a shower and put antibiotic ointment on it. I have a low immune system due to arthritis medications. Well, 2 days later the bump swelled and the area looked like I had been beaten up, the breast was red hot and draining. It hurt badly. I went to the emergency room and it was cellulitis. I was prescribed clindamycin 300 mg every six hours for a week. I am feeling much better.

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Comment from: pbaczuk, 75 or over Female (Patient) Published: May 17

The emergency room infused IV Keflex and put me on oral Keflex for cellulitis. When I saw my regular doctor, she ordered clindamycin.

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