Kids Health Info

Cellulitis

  • Cellulitis is an infection of the skin. It is caused by bacteria, usually streptococcus or staphylococcus. These bacteria live on the skin and may enter an area of broken skin like a cut or scratch. This causes pain, swelling, warmth and redness.  Your child will need antibiotics to treat the infection.

    Signs and symptoms

    Cellulitis can start as a small, swollen area of pain or warmth, with redness on the skin.  As this red area begins to spread, your child may start to feel sick and get a fever. They may have swollen glands (lymph nodes) near the area of infected skin. The infection can spread to the rest of the body. Cellulitis is usually not contagious, however the bacteria can be spread through an open wound.

    Causes

    Cellulitis can affect skin on most parts of the body. Usually it starts in areas that have had:

    • an insect bite, burn, abrasion or cut
    • a surgical wound
    • skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, scabies or acne
    • a foreign object in the skin, such as metal or glass

    Often the cause is unknown. Anyone at any age can develop cellulitis. 

    When to see a doctor

    Cellulitis almost always needs to be treated with antibiotics, so all children with cellulitis should be seen by a doctor.

    It is more urgent if:

    • the affected skin is on the face
    • your child has a chronic illness (such as diabetes) or a problem with their immune system
    • your child has been bitten by an animal (or human)
    • the area of redness is spreading very quickly or is very painful

    Treatment

    • Most children with cellulitis can be treated at home with oral antibiotics.
    • Most children respond to the antibiotics and begin to show improvement within two to three days.
    • More severe cellulitis may need treatment in hospital with intravenous (IV; a drip) antibiotics.
    • Pain relievers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can help reduce discomfort.

    Care at home

    Rest and, if possible, raise the affected area. For example, place an arm in a sling or prop a leg on pillows. This may ease the pain and reduce swelling. Your doctor may also suggest your child wears a splint or bandage around the infected area to stop it moving.

    Pain relievers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can help reduce discomfort. All medication should be given according to the doctor's instructions. You may be advised to make a follow-up appointment with your doctor to make sure the cellulitis is improving. Do not forget to do this. Always wash your hands before and after touching the infected area.

    Key points to remember

    • Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin that often happens in areas that are damaged or inflamed.
    • Treatment includes a course of antibiotics.
    • Cellulitis around the eye area needs careful monitoring by a doctor.

    Developed by RCH Short Stay Unit. First published Sept 2007. Updated December 2010.

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Disclaimer
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.