Cellulitis Treatment Overview
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.
Go to the ER if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Severe pain
- Blistering of the skin
- Color change of the skin to a purple brown color
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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).
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.
How to relieve your pain at home
If you have cellulitis—a red, swollen, painful area of skin—see your healthcare provider right away to get treated with antibiotics. But there are steps you can take at home to help relieve symptoms.
- If the skin infection is on a leg or an arm, you can elevate the limb to help with blood flow and relieve pain.
- You can also take OTC pain medications.
- If you have any open cuts on the skin, clean them. Then apply an OTC antibacterial ointment like Bacitracin and cover with a clean dressing.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Ibuprofen (Aleve, Motrin)
- Bacitracin ointment
How to help prevent cellulitis
- Keep your skin clean and moisturized. Good skin care and hygiene can help prevent cellulitis.
- Clean any open wounds and apply antibacterial ointment like Bacitracin immediately.