Cellulitis - Treatment 

Treating cellulitis 

Treatment for cellulitis depends on what caused the infection, the severity of your symptoms and the general state of your health.

You can usually be treated at home with antibiotics if you have mild symptoms.

Hospital treatment may be necessary if you have symptoms such as fever, nausea and vomiting which suggest the infection has spread from your skin to your bloodstream or other parts of the body.

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're allergic to penicillin, alternative antibiotics such as erythromycin or clarithromycin can be used.

If it's suspected that your cellulitis was caused by a wound being exposed to contaminated water, you will be given a combination of two different antibiotics. This is 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 fluids to avoid dehydration.

If your leg is affected by cellulitis, keep it raised whilst you are resting, using pillows or a chair. This should make you feel more comfortable and help to reduce the swelling. If possible, the foot should be raised higher than the hip. If your arm is affected, try and keep your lower arm raised above your elbow.

If it's uncomfortable to raise the limb, try to lie down as much as possible. However, it's important to still regularly move the joints, such as your wrists or ankles.

Try to avoid cuts and grazes from activities that increase the risk. For example, by wearing clothing that covers your arms or legs when gardening.

You can also take steps to help prevent cellulitis from reoccurring. For example:

  • maintaining good hand hygiene
  • keeping your skin moisturised
  • treating cuts and grazes or any broken skin caused by a condition such as eczema
  • treating fungal infections of the hands or feet, such as athlete's foot
  • long-term antibiotics may be prescribed if you experience recurrent cellulitis (more than two episodes a year in the same area)
  • treatments for lymphoedema (long-term swelling) if you are diagnosed with the condition

Read more information about preventing cellulitis.

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).

Once you have recovered from the initial symptoms you can usually be treated with antibiotics at home or as an outpatient, rather than staying in hospital.

The type of antibiotics 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.


Page last reviewed: 15/08/2014

Next review due: 15/08/2016

Ratings

How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 517 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating

Comments

The 9 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

blzbob said on 23 September 2014

I have had swelling around the foot ,around the ankle mainly and have had two blood tests to see if there is uric acid or infection, both were said to be clear. I was told to go to my doctor who said it was cellulitis (hospital and drop in could not say what was causing the swelling), surely if this is caused by infection this would have shown up on the blood tests? I have been given flucloxacillin for a ten day course so I suppose I will have to wait and see.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

annatinks said on 10 July 2014

My daughter is 12. She began antibiotics on 19th June for Celluilitis in her left leg. This appears to have initially come via an insect bite. She had Flucloxacillin, at adult dosage, for 7 days which she didn't respond to much at all. She then had Erythromycin for 7 days which seemed to fight it but then within 5 days of finishing them the Cellulitis was spreading again and now it's July 10th and she's on Co-amoxiclav for another week with Fucidic Acid cream, 20mg 3xdaily as well. She's miserable, in pain and I'm praying this finally works... Anyone else got experience of this in a child?

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

MsMoose said on 23 June 2014

Cellulitis is an awful painful condition. My dad currently has it in both legs, and this is the third time in 3 years. Apparently once you have had it, it lays dormant in the body so you are more likely to get it again.

This time around he’s been on Flucloxacillin for 2 weeks, was just about to start 1 3rd week and he’s now been put on Clarithromycin by a GP from the out of hours clinic who couldn’t see him as they were too busy – he was referred there Sunday afternoon by the District Nurses who have been changing his dressings daily.

The legs are weeping constantly and blistered so dressings need to be changed every day at the local clinic. His legs are bound up with bandages and he looks like he has two broken legs. They are also now using Aquacel Ag Dressings to help with the healing process.

I am sure the best and next step should be a few days in hospital on intravenous antibiotics, but a blood test 2 weeks ago proved there was no sepsis, we are waiting on results of another blood tests and swab test.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

dial said on 21 October 2013

Oh you poor soul. If your skin gets worse, such as you describe, it is possible that you are allergic to penicillin, and this is a penicillin based antibiotic. A red and shiny rash on legs, spreading to other parts of body is definitely an allergic symptom.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

elc2711 said on 06 September 2013

I have cellulitis in both legs- severly in my left foot and ankle. I was put on flucloxacilin 4 times a day one week ago, but the foot is now worse. The skin is breaking and constantly leaking water from 5 different areas on the keg, foot and ankle. My GP has now prescribed erythromycin 3 times a day...i hope this works, as the pain is unbearable. The whole leg is swollen and bright red, and, leaking! Im giving it 3 days or heading for a&e.
Im 29 and suffer left sided weakness from brain stem oedema (i have a tumour compressing the brain stem) so cellulitis is the last thing in the world needed to heap misery on an already miserable situation :(

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Trekkiemo said on 13 July 2013

I was diagnosed with cellulitis 3 days ago . I have it in or on both ankles and legs . It has been very painful and itchy all the time .I am on Flucloxacillin 500mg 4 times a day for 7 days. I have not seen the redness go away or any change . I am getting worried the antibiotics are not working for me. I now see by other posts that it can come back that is not good either.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

annmountford said on 15 May 2013

i was diagnosed with cellulitus last week after noticing that both my legs had swollen and my skin was very tight ,also for weeks i had been waking up with bright red marks up the insides of my legs which i thought was just over heating but then i got what looked like orange peel little tiny blisters under the skin and they were going up mylegs.I felt realy scared as i knew that something was realy wrong,so i saw my gp ,who has put me on antibiotics 1 tablet four times a day,for ten days the swelling has gone down alot and the pains in my legs are much better,but i think this could have been cased either of two things ,i have a fungal toe nail and the other could have been a bite i had abroad last year

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

mrmar said on 22 April 2012

@User548580 :

What kind of cellulitis is it?
I am suffering from nasal cellulitis and was prescribed only 100mg of doxycyline twice a day for one week and bactroban cream. A little improvement.
I Would be interested to know how you get on with the high dose antibiotics.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

User548580 said on 18 April 2011

i have just got my 2nd dose of cellulitis in 4 months and treatment has changed am now taking amoxicillin 500mg 2 capsules 3 times a day and flucloxacillin 500mg 2 capsules 4 times a day for 3 weeks plus painkillers.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Antibiotics

Antibiotics are medications that are used to treat, and in some cases prevent, bacterial infections