Cellulitis - Treatment 

Treating cellulitis 

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 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 is uncomfortable to raise the limb, try to lie down as much as possible. However, it is 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, wear 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).

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.

Page last reviewed: 30/07/2012

Next review due: 30/07/2014

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Comments

The 6 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

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.

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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 :(

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Antibiotics

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