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What is Cellulitis?

Cellulitis is an acute infection of the skin caused by germs (bacteria) that enter the skin through a cut, scratch, sting, animal bite, splinter, puncture wound, piercings and tattoos.

The most common areas affected are the legs, buttocks and the head.

If the skin infection is not treated, it may spread to deeper tissues or into the bloodstream.


Affected areas of the skin may be warm, red, swollen and painful.  You may also notice a red line on nearby skin. Children may have a fever (temperature over 100.4 F), chills, sweating, swollen lymph nodes and fatigue.


Cellulitis is usually treated with antibiotics to help fight the infection, and pain medications such as Tylenol or Motrin to help relieve pain. Warm soaks or the use of a heating pad are applied to the infected area three to four times a day for 20 minutes at a time. Generally, the infection should improve within two days of starting treatment. You should see the reddened area shrinking and becoming less swollen and painful.

It is important to schedule a follow-up appointment with your child’s doctor within two days of starting treatment.  You should also call your doctor if you there is no improvement during the first 48 hours after treatment is started. 

General Care Instructions

  • Keep the area clean and dry.
  • Wash the affected area daily with soap and water. Do not wash with well water.
  • Apply warm compresses three to four times per day for 20 minutes at a time.
  • Change bandages as needed and as directed by your doctor.
  • Keep the affected area elevated to help reduce swelling and pain.
  • Take all the antibiotics as directed.
  • Avoid squeezing, scratching, or rubbing the affected area.
  • Avoid public swimming pools, rivers, lakes, or ponds.

See Your Doctor Right Away If …

  • Fever above 101.5 F
  • The area of redness is increasing in size
  • Child becomes more ill or sluggish

Last Updated 01/2021

Reviewed By Katie Resch, RN and Leslie Farrell, MD
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