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Cellulitis Treatment Overview

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Care Plan


First steps to consider

  • If you have cellulitis—a red, swollen, painful area of your skin—you should see your healthcare provider right away for treatment, which usually includes antibiotics.
  • While waiting for an appointment, you can relieve pain by taking OTC pain medication and, if the skin infection is on a limb, keeping it elevated.
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Emergency Care

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Go to the ER if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Confusion
  • Severe pain
  • Blistering of the skin
  • Color change of the skin to a purple brown color

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All treatments for cellulitis
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Read more about cellulitis care options

When to see a healthcare provider

You should see a healthcare provider as soon as possible if you think you have cellulitis. Early treatment can prevent the infection from going into your bloodstream and spreading throughout your body.

If you have diabetes or a compromised immune system (from cancer, immunosuppressive medications, or HIV), go to the ER or urgent care. Make sure to let your healthcare provider know if you have ever had MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).

Getting diagnosed

Your healthcare provider will examine the area and evaluate it for any swelling, redness, or tenderness. They may take a culture from the area to determine what kind of bacteria is causing the infection and what antibiotics to prescribe for treatment.

What to expect from your visit

  • Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics if you have cellulitis. You may also be given a prescription topical antibiotic to apply to any open skin on the area. You should start to feel better and notice improvement in redness and pain within 48 hours.
  • You will probably be asked to follow up in 5–7 days so your doctor can check if it is getting better. If it is not getting better, your provider may change your antibiotics or take a culture of the infection.

Prescription cellulitis medications

  • Cephalexin (Keflex)
  • Sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim (Bactrim)
  • Doxycycline (Vibramycin, Doryx)
  • Clindamycin (Cleocin)
  • Mupirocin ointment (Bactroban)

Types of providers

  • A primary care provider can diagnose and treat cellulitis.
  • A dermatologist is a skin specialist who can diagnose and treat cellulitis.
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Frequently asked questions