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Cellulitis: Signs and symptoms

If you have cellulitis, you’ll notice that the affected area of your body is red and swollen. It may be difficult to tell where the redness ends and normal-looking skin begins. When you touch the area, it feels warm. Pressing on the warm, hard, and swollen skin is often painful.

Cellulitis on a patient’s lower leg

In adults, cellulitis often infects a lower leg.

Cellulitis infection on a patient's lower leg

Before you notice signs on your skin, you may feel ill. Some people have a fever, chills, or fatigue. These are all signs of an infection. If you have a severe infection, you may also have intense pain, cold sweats, nausea, drowsiness, or trouble concentrating.

When the infection is severe, some people develop blisters on the red, swollen skin. The lymph nodes nearest the infection may feel swollen. You may see a streak of red in the area, an open sore, or a pus-filled bump.

People who have severe cellulitis may have a rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, or trouble concentrating.

Where cellulitis develops

Cellulitis can appear anywhere in the body. However, adults usually get it on a leg or foot. Children often have cellulitis on their face or neck. Intravenous drug users tend to develop it on an arm or part of their body that they frequently inject.

Image used with permission of Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology: J Am Acad Dermatol. 2012; 67:163.e1-163.e12.

Al-Niaimi F, Neil Cox N. “Cellulitis and lymphedema: A vicious cycle.” J of Lymphoedema.” 2009;4(2):38-42.

Hapern AV and Heymann WR. ““Bacterial diseases.” In: Bolognia JL, et al. Dermatology. (second edition). Mosby Elsevier, Spain, 2008:1084.

Raff AB, Kroshinsky D. “Cellulitis: A review.” JAMA. 2016;316(3):325-337.

Saavedia A, Wainberg AN, et al. “Soft-tissue infections: Erysipelas, cellulitis, gangrenous cellulitis, and myonecrosis.” In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, et al. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine (seventh edition). McGraw Hill Medical, New York, 2008:1722-23.