Cellulitis is a common and a serious bacterial infection. It is caused by streptococcus and staphylococcus bacteria. The affected area on the skin appears to be swollen, red, warm, and painful. It mostly affects the lower extremities, but can also occur in the face, arms, and other areas.
Cellulitis can be life-threatening and can create some major complications if it spreads to lymph nodes and bloodstream. It can lead to complications like blood infection, bone infection, inflammation of lymph vessels and tissue death in rare extreme cases. Severe cellulitis might cause the spread of bacteria into the bloodstream which can lead to complications like sepsis or blood poisoning.
4 Major Complications of Cellulitis
Four of the major complications have been detailed below, as knowledge of the same can prove to be life-saving:
#1. Gangrene: Death of the infected soft tissue is known as gangrene. Severe cellulitis when spreads deep into the tissue can further go deep inside the muscle and is known as necrotizing fasciitis and is an emergency. If the dead tissue is not removed at the earliest, it can be life-threatening. It is very important to be aware of the signs and symptoms because the surface of the skin might not look much dead but necrotizing fasciitis might be present. A patient suffering from this condition will present the following symptoms,
- Antibiotic intake being unable to control fever.
- Hardening of tissue under the skin.
- Numbness of the surface of the skin
- Excessive pain
It is important to consult a healthcare professional and not to delay the further treatment to prevent getting gangrene which is one of the common complications of cellulitis.
#2. Orbital Cellulitis: If the cellulitis is only in the tissue of the front socket of the eye (preseptal cellulitis), it can be easily treated with oral antibiotics. Orbital cellulitis is the spread of cellulitis behind the eyeball and is a medical emergency.
It can lead to permanent loss of vision and can further spread to the brain causing meningitis. This is a life-threatening complication of cellulitis especially for those suffering from diabetes, liver disease, or hemochromatosis (iron overload disease). The symptoms presented by the cellulitis patient suffering from this condition are,
- Loss of vision
- Difficulty in moving the eyeball
- Orbital cellulitis may require hospitalization and treatment by an ophthalmologist.
#3. Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis: Cellulitis of the nose and upper lip can lead to this condition as the infected blood drains into the veins of the skull. The presence of infected blood clots in the veins is termed as cavernous sinus thrombosis. It is also a life-threatening condition and presents the following signs and symptoms:
#4. Permanent Hearing Loss: The infection of the external ear in a patient suffering from diabetes can become cellulitis and severe swelling of the external ear can lead to malignant otitis externa which when spreads deep into the ear can lead to a permanent hearing loss. If you are a diabetic and suffering from an external ear infection, note that you need urgent care.
An ENT surgeon might get a CT scan done to evaluate the skull around the ear. This type of complications of cellulitis infection can be treated by an antibiotic course.
How Can You Prevent Cellulitis?
You cannot always prevent cellulitis occurrence, but can surely minimize it by maintaining good hygiene and managing skin conditions like eczema and tinea.
The most common cause is via skin, therefore, washing hand regularly and keeping the nail trimmed is important. Taking shower every day and wearing clean clothes may help reduce skin contact with the infection. Avoid walking barefoot outdoors.
If you have a broken skin, keep the wound clean, wash it with soap and water, and dress the wound with a clean bandage and keep a watch on the signs of infection.
If you fall under the risk factors associated with cellulitis such as diabetes or a weakened immune system, always be aware of the symptoms, and do not delay if you notice any of the signs and symptoms. The infection spreads fast in these cases and can prove to be fatal.
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