Your doctor will likely be able to diagnose cellulitis by looking at your skin. In some cases, he or she may suggest blood tests or other tests to help rule out other conditions.
Cellulitis treatment usually includes a prescription oral antibiotic. Within three days of starting an antibiotic, let your doctor know whether the infection is responding to treatment. You'll need to take the antibiotic for as long as your doctor directs, usually five to 10 days but possibly as long as 14 days.
In most cases, signs and symptoms of cellulitis disappear after a few days. You may need to be hospitalized and receive antibiotics through your veins (intravenously) if:
- Signs and symptoms don't respond to oral antibiotics
- Signs and symptoms are extensive
- You have a high fever
Usually, doctors prescribe a drug that's effective against both streptococci and staphylococci. It's important that you take the medication as directed and finish the entire course of medication, even after you feel better.
Your doctor also might recommend elevating the affected area, which may speed recovery.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Try these steps to help ease any pain and swelling:
- Place a cool, damp cloth on the affected area as often as needed for your comfort.
- Ask your doctor to suggest an over-the-counter pain medication to treat pain.
- Elevate the affected part of your body.
- Ask your doctor whether it might help to wear compression wraps or stockings.
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner, who may refer you to a doctor who specializes in skin disorders (dermatologist). If you have a severe infection, an emergency room doctor may examine you first. You may also be referred to an infectious disease specialist.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
What you can do
- List your symptoms, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
- List key personal information, such as if you've had any recent surgeries, injuries, animal bites or insect bites.
- List medications, vitamins and supplements you're taking and the dosage.
- List questions to ask your doctor.
Preparing a list of questions can help you make sure that you cover the points that are important to you. For cellulitis, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- How might I have gotten this infection?
- What tests do I need? Do these tests require special preparation?
- How is this treated?
- How long before the treatment starts working?
- What side effects are possible with this medication?
- I have other medical conditions. How do I manage them together?
- Are there alternatives to antibiotics?
- Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing?
- How can I prevent this type of infection in the future?
- Do you have any brochures or other printed material that I can have? What websites do you recommend?
Don't hesitate to ask other questions you have.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:
- When did your symptoms start?
- Do you remember injuries or insect bites to that area?
- How severe is the pain?
- Does anything seem to improve your symptoms?
- Are you allergic to or intolerant of any antibiotics?
- Have you had this type of infection before?
What you can do in the meantime
You may need a prescription antibiotic to clear your infection. However, until you see your doctor, you can wash the injured area with soap and water and place a cool, damp cloth over the affected area for relief.