Cellulitis - Complications 

Complications of cellulitis 

Meningitis symptoms

Meningitis is a very serious illness but, if treated quickly, most children make a full recovery. Our symptom alert helps you to recognise the signs, and it includes a printable checklist.

Complications of cellulitis can include blood poisoning, abscesses, necrotising fasciitis and meningitis.

Blood poisoning (septicaemia)

If the bacteria infecting your skin and tissue enter your bloodstream, it can lead to blood poisoning (septicaemia). Symptoms of blood poisoning include:

  • high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • rapid heartbeat
  • rapid breathing
  • feeling dizzy or faint
  • changes in mental behaviour, such as confusion or disorientation
  • diarrhoea
  • reduced urine flow
  • cold, clammy skin
  • pale skin
  • loss of consciousness

If you have any of these symptoms, call 999 for an ambulance.

Read more information about blood poisoning.


Some cases of cellulitis can result in an abscess forming near the site of the infection. 

An abscess is a swollen, pus-filled lump under the surface of the skin. It is caused by a build up of bacteria and dead white blood cells.

In some cases, the antibiotics used to treat cellulitis may also help to remove the abscess. But if not, the pus will have to be drained from the abscess through a small cut in your skin.

See abscess for more information.

Necrotising fasciitis

Necrotising fasciitis is a rare but serious bacterial infection of the deep layer of skin. This causes the affected tissue to die (gangrene).

Symptoms develop rapidly and include very severe pain, fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and unconsciousness.

Treatment includes surgery to remove the affected tissue and antibiotics.

There are around 500 cases of necrotising fasciitis in the UK every year.

Facial cellulitis and meningitis

Facial cellulitis is an uncommon form of cellulitis that develops on the skin of the face. It accounts for an estimated 8.5% of all cases of cellulitis.

Facial cellulitis is most common in children under three years old and older adults above 50. If facial cellulitis is left untreated in children, the bacteria can potentially spread to the outer membranes of their brain (the meninges) and trigger a serious brain infection called meningitis.

Symptoms of meningitis can differ in adults, but symptoms in babies and children under three years old include:

  • becoming floppy and unresponsive, or stiff with jerky movements
  • becoming irritable and not wanting to be held
  • unusual crying
  • vomiting and refusing feeds
  • pale and blotchy skin
  • loss of appetite
  • staring expression
  • very sleepy and reluctant to wake up

Bacterial meningitis is serious and should be treated as a medical emergency. If left untreated, a bacterial infection can cause severe brain damage and infect the blood.

If you suspect your child has symptoms of meningitis, call 999 immediately for an ambulance.

The best way to protect your child against meningitis is to make sure they have been vaccinated with the:

The vaccine and the booster provide immunity against two leading causes of meningitis in children:

  • haemophilus influenzae type b bacteria
  • group C meningococcal bacteria

Ask your GP if you're unsure whether your child’s vaccinations are up to date.

Read about meningitis and see the vaccination planner for more information.

Page last reviewed: 15/08/2014

Next review due: 15/08/2016


How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 149 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating


The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Julie Shrive said on 31 August 2014

Is this discrimination or care in the discrimnatory community .
I find it offensive when a GP in front of a student diagnoses lymphoedema after visits to A& E not testing when feet doubled in size turning purple .Handing out sheets from internet when they do not understand condition [ I have been researching] & to offering weight management when ballooning is out of order when actually paid for a gastric band having continuously dieted since pubity - hormones.Why are MCMillan Nurses blocking & don't seem understand diagnosis in relation to the discretionary altering GPs letter & what I told her regarding legs & bruising .
Surely fact when A&E testing picked up pyuria & shingles is showing chronic cellulitus from birth & should have always been in tertiary sector .When hospital Doctors using remits to ration this is not acceptable .

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Madmummy40 said on 17 June 2014

I recently had cellulitis in March 2014 the care I received in Torbay and Ruh hospital was greater than I ever expected I was admitted in Torbay all by myself I was frightened didn't know or understood what I had to deal with I was glad I was In too receive the care. I had the raging temperature swollen legs red legs I'm still living with the evidence it's a small price not too lose aleg or my life . Thank you to the great doctors and nurses. Xxx

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

algex2009 said on 17 October 2013

I had Cellulitis in my right lower leg now for 2 weeks, 1st week on antibiotics, still very red & swollen, also I can not stand for more than a couple of minutes, went back to doctors, he doubled the antibiotics, l still feel unwell, my leg is still very painful, still can't stand, hurt all the time now, parts of my leg where it is most painful is turning blue.
I suffer with osteoarthritis in both knees, which I'm taking Tramadol, I am taking 8 capsules a day now to stop this pain in my leg.
My leg hurts more everyday, I just need to know if there is anything I can do to stop it.
The only advice I had from my Doctor is to keep taking the antibiotics & if not better next week come back to see him.
Can't stand this pain much longer.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Santisuk said on 19 July 2013

This page encourages people to call an ambulance if they have cellulitis and develop diarrhoea, as that is one of the symptoms of potential blood poisoning.

A common side effect of the standard antibiotics used to treat cellulitis is diarrhoea! I usually get diarrhoea with flucloxacillin/dicloxycillin, but it settles down within a day or so. I have not called an ambulance and have lived!

Someone needs to change the text on this page to "persistent or severe diarrhoea"?

Come to think of it I think I had three of these symptoms with my last bout of cellulitis - clammy skin, reduced urine flow (not unusual for older males) and diarrhoea. I watched it carefully and would have gone to the GP had I been concerned. Calling an ambulance as advised here seems very OTT unless you are feeling very unwell and can't get to a doctor or out patients quickly.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Find and choose services for Cellulitis