Children's Health and Wellness

Cellulitis in Children

What is cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a deep bacterial infection of the skin. The infection usually involves the face, or the arms and legs. It may happen in normal skin. But it usually happens after some type of trauma causes an opening in your child's skin. Other causes may include human or animal bites, eczema leading to breaks in the skin, or injuries that happen in water. This opening can lead to an infection.

What is the cause of cellulitis?

Cellulitis is usually caused by a bacterial infection of a wound, or an area of skin that is no longer intact. The most common bacterial causes of cellulitis include the following:

  • Group A beta - hemolytic streptococcus

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae

  • Staphylococcus aureus

  • Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) 

What are the symptoms of cellulitis?

The following are the most common symptoms of cellulitis. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Swelling of the skin

  • Tenderness

  • Warm skin

  • Pain

  • Bruising

  • Blisters

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Chills

  • Weakness

  • Red streaks from the original site of the cellulitis

  • Local lymph node swelling

Some cases of cellulitis are considered an emergency. Talk with your child's health care provider right away if you notice any of the following symptoms in your child:

  • A very large area of red, inflamed skin

  • Fever

  • If the area affected is causing your child to complain of numbness, tingling, or other changes in a hand, arm, leg, or foot

  • If the skin appears black

  • If the area that is red and swollen is on your child's face or head

  • If your child has diabetes or has a weakened immune system and develops cellulitis

The symptoms of cellulitis may resemble other skin conditions. Always talk with your child's health care provider for a diagnosis.

How is cellulitis diagnosed?

Diagnosis is usually based on a medical history and physical examination of your child. Blood and skin samples may be taken to confirm the diagnosis and the type of bacteria that are present.

Treatment for cellulitis

Specific treatment for cellulitis will be determined by your child's health care provider based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the disease

  • Your child's tolerance for specific medicines, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

  • Location of the cellulitis on the body

Immediate treatment can help prevent the spread of cellulitis. Treatment may include:

  • Oral or intravenous (IV) antibiotics

  • Cool, wet dressings on the infection site

  • If your child has an extremity (arm or leg) that is affected, his or her health care provider may have you raise the arm or leg and decrease the amount of activity

  • Rest

  • Surgical debridement if indicated

  • Mark the area with a pen. Watch its progression to make sure the antibiotics are causing the area of redness and swelling the decrease in size

Based on the physical exam, your child's health care provider may treat your child in the hospital. This depends on the severity of the cellulitis. In the hospital, your child may receive antibiotics and fluids through an intravenous (IV) catheter.

Are there any complications from cellulitis?

Complications can be reduced with prompt and accurate treatment by your child's health care provider. Local abscesses are the most common complication. Bacteria getting into the bloodstream is a potentially serious complication.

Online Source: Cellulitis, American Association of Pediatric Ophthalmology
Online Source: Cellulitis, Merck Manuals
Online Editor: Geller, Arlene
Online Medical Reviewer: Bass, Pat F. III, MD, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Berman, Kevin, MD, PhD
Date Last Reviewed: 5/17/2015
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