Cellulitis can often be treated at home with a course of antibiotics, although severe cases may need to be treated in hospital.

Treatment at home

Antibiotics

If you're treated at home, you'll usually be prescribed antibiotic tablets to take two to four times a day for a week.

A longer course may be needed if your symptoms don't improve after a week or you have an underlying condition that makes cellulitis more difficult to treat, such as lymphoedema.

Commonly prescribed antibiotics include flucloxacillin, amoxicillin, clarithromycin and co-amoxiclav. Possible side effects can include an upset stomach or diarrhoea.

Your symptoms may get worse in the first 48 hours after treatment starts, but should start to improve soon afterwards.

Make sure you complete the whole course of medicine you're given, even if you're feeling better.

Looking after yourself

While you're recovering at home, the following steps can help ease your symptoms and aid your recovery:

  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen for the pain
  • raise the affected body part to reduce swelling – for example, if your leg is affected, rest it on pillows or a chair when you're sitting or lying down
  • try to regularly move the joint near the affected body part, such as your wrist or ankle, to stop it getting stiff
  • drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration
  • if you usually wear compression stockings – for example, for lymphoedema – avoid these until you've recovered

When to get medical advice

Contact your GP as soon as possible if:

  • your symptoms get worse after 48 hours
  • your symptoms haven't improved after a week
  • you develop additional symptoms, such as a high temperature (fever) or vomiting

Treatment in hospital

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

Once you've recovered from the initial symptoms, you can usually be treated with antibiotic injections or tablets at home or as an outpatient, rather than staying in hospital.

Page last reviewed: 09/08/2016

Next review due: 09/08/2019