What information should be provided to patients with cellulitis?

Updated: Jun 14, 2019
  • Author: Thomas E Herchline, MD; Chief Editor: Michael Stuart Bronze, MD  more...
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Depending on the location of the affected area, the patient should decrease physical activity and elevate the extremity, if possible. They may take over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for pain, if approved by their physician.

Patients should call their doctor's office or seek urgent evaluation if they have any of the following features:

  • Fever (>100.5°F), especially when associated with chills

  • Cellulitis with surrounding soft, fluctuant areas that are suggestive of abscess formation

  • Red streaking from an area of cellulitis or a fast-spreading area of redness, which indicates that the infection may need closer observation, change in antibiotic treatment, or inpatient supportive care

  • Significant pain not relieved by acetaminophen or ibuprofen

  • Inability to move an extremity or joint because of pain

Although any cellulitis infection may be severe, patients with diabetes, cancer, chronic lymphedema, or immunosuppression should be made aware that they are more predisposed to serious infection. Patients with an underlying genetic condition, such as an immunodeficiency disease, are also at especially high risk for minor skin infections to progress to cellulitis.

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