Onset of Cellulitis

I had a first-hand lesson in Cellulitis recently when a family member developed the condition. The doctors at the hospital diagnosed him with it, along with Bursitis, which is an inflammation of the bursae, the fluid-filled sacs found around joints. Not sure what caused it. Could have been from a bump, cut, bug bite, etc. He awoke in the middle of the night to find his left knee was swollen, red, painful and after about 12 hours he began complaining of headaches. Prior to our arrival at the hospital, I applied some arnica montana gel to the affected area. A line was drawn on the skin around the area of infection so it could be observed in case it started to spread. The doctors later prescribed antibiotics and pain medication and sent us on our way.

Cellulitis on knee, and Bursitis

What is Cellulitis?

It is a spreading bacterial infection of the skin and the tissues directly underneath. It can be caused by many different bacteria - usually the Streptococci - which spread rapidly in the skin because they produce enzymes that don't allow the tissue to confine the infection. Erysipelas is one type of streptococcal cellulitis where the skin is bright red and quite swollen and the edges of the infected area are raised. It swells because the infection blocks the skin's lymphatic vessels. Staphylococcus and many other types of bacteria can also cause this disorder.

It typically develops on the legs but it can occur anywhere. The first symptoms are redness, pain, and tenderness over an area of skin. These are caused by the bacteria as well as the body's attempts to stop the infection. The infected skin becomes hot and slightly swollen and may appear pitted, like an orange peel. In our case, the knee was very hot to the touch. Fluid-filled blisters sometimes appear on the infected skin. Most people will feel only mildly ill, but some may have a fever, chills, rapid heart rate, headache, low blood pressure, and confusion.

Swollen foot during bout of Cellulitis
Swollen foot during Cellulitis condition

We had to return to the hospital a few days later as the left foot and leg had become very swollen.

This condition is nothing to mess around with! Prompt treatment with antibiotics can prevent the infection from spreading rapidly and reaching the blood and organs, leading to sepsis. Antibiotics like dicloxacillin or cephalexin are effective. People with a mild form of this condition may take antibiotics by mouth; those with rapidly spreading cellulitis, high fever, or other evidence of serious infection often receive intravenous antibiotics. That's what my "patient" had to go through, a night in the hospital hooked up to an IV with a different course of antibiotics than what he started with because they didn't seem to be working, or they weren't the correct dosage.

It's also helpful when the affected part of the body is kept immobile and elevated to help reduce swelling. Cool, wet dressings applied to the infected area may relieve discomfort. Symptoms of cellulitis usually disappear after a few days of antibiotic therapy. Keep in mind though, symptoms usually will get worse before they get better, probably because during the death of the bacteria, substances that cause tissue damage get released and the body will continue to react even though the bacteria are dead. Antibiotics are continued for ten days or more even though the symptoms may disappear earlier.

At Cellulitis follow-up visit

We returned to the hospital for a follow-up visit.

Once he finished the antibiotics, I put him on probiotics to restore healthy gut function. He also started taking Turmeric and for skincare, he began applying an infection-fighting herb, Tea tree oil (Melaleuca spp., or ylang ylang) to the knee with a moist cotton ball.

Return from Cellulitis to Skin Disorders

Read about Cellulite, a different skin condition with a similar-sounding name

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