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Cellulitis - Treating cellulitis

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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If you are diagnosed with cellulitis, your treatment will depend on the cause of your cellulitis, the severity of your symptoms, and the general state of your health.

You can usually be treated at home with antibiotic tablets if you do not have additional symptoms of being unwell, such as fever, nausea and vomiting, that suggest the cellulitis infection has spread from your skin to the bloodstream or other parts of the body.

If this is not the case admission to hospital is usually recommended.

Treatment at home

Antibiotics

If you are well enough to be treated at home, you will be given a seven-day course of antibiotic tablets.

The most commonly prescribed antibiotic for cellulitis is flucloxacillin, which is part of the penicillin group of antibiotics.

The most common side effects of flucloxacillin are mild digestive problems, such as an upset stomach or episodes of diarrhoea.

If you cannot take flucloxacillin because you are allergic to penicillin, an alternative antibiotic known as erythromycin can be used.

The side effects of erythromycin are usually mild and short-lived. They include nausea, abdominal (tummy) discomfort, vomiting and diarrhoea

If it is suspected that your cellulitis was caused by a wound being exposed to contaminated water, you will be given a combination of two different antibiotics: usually doxycycline or ciprofloxacin in combination with flucloxacillin or erythromycin.

When you first start taking the antibiotics, you may notice that your skin becomes redder. This is usually only a temporary reaction, and the redness should start to fade within 48 hours.

Contact your GP immediately if your symptoms get worse 48 hours after taking the antibiotics, or you develop additional symptoms, such as a high temperature or vomiting.

Self-care

There are steps you can take at home to ease your symptoms and speed your recovery from cellulitis.

Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. If your leg is affected by cellulitis, keep it raised. This should make you feel more comfortable and help to reduce the swelling. 

Pain relief

If your cellulitis is causing pain or a high temperature (fever), an over-the-counter painkiller may ease your symptoms. Paracetamol and ibuprofen are suitable for cellulitis.

Treatment at hospital

If you need to be admitted to hospital for treatment, you will be given antibiotics directly into your vein through an injection or a drip (known as intravenous antibiotics).

The type of antibiotics that will be used depends on the suspected cause of your infection, although a type of antibiotic known as a broad-spectrum antibiotic is often used. This type of antibiotic can kill a range of different strains of bacteria.

If your symptoms improve and you are otherwise healthy, you may be discharged after 48 hours and your treatment can switch to antibiotic tablets.

If this is not the case, a three or four day course of intravenous antibiotics is usually recommended before switching over to antibiotic tablets.

Antibiotics
Antibiotics are medicines that can be used to treat infections caused by micro-organisms, usually bacteria or fungi. For example amoxicillin, streptomycin and erythromycin.
Fever
A high temperature, also known as a fever, is when someone's body temperature goes above the normal 37°C (98.6°F).
Kidney
Kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs located at the back of the abdomen, which remove waste and extra fluid from the blood and pass them out of the body as urine.
Liver
The liver is the largest organ in the body. Its main jobs are to secrete bile (to help digestion), detoxify the blood and change food into energy.
Medical Review: July 28, 2012
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