As part of the natural aging process, seniors have an increased chance of developing skin infections, and one of the most common is Cellulitis.
Cellulitis is very painful and can cause swelling, redness, and a wide range of other symptoms.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about Cellulitis and how to prevent it.
What is cellulitis?
Cellulitis is a common skin infection that happens when bacteria is spread through the skin to deeper tissues and it can occur when bacteria enters the body through a cut.
Most cases are mild and may only last a few days to a couple of weeks. But cellulitis can sometimes progress and become a serious or even dangerous infection, causing severe pain and illness that affects the whole body.
Treatment is always needed to help control the infection and reduce symptoms.
Seniors are at higher risk for Cellulitis, as is those who have diabetes, a weakened immune system, or Edema (Swelling). These groups of people tend to become sicker from Cellulitis and are more likely to have it come back.
What are the Different Types of Cellulitis?
There are several types of cellulitis, depending on where the infection occurs. Some of the most common types include:
- Periorbital Cellulitis: which develops around the eyes
- Facial Cellulitis: around the eyes, nose, and cheeks
- Breast Cellulitis
- Perianal Cellulitis: around the anal orifice
Cellulitis can occur anywhere on the body, including the hands and feet. Adults most commonly develop Cellulitis in their lower legs.
What are the Symptoms
In the early stages, the infected area will be warm, red, swollen, and tender. If the infection spreads, you may have a fever, chills, and swollen lymph nodes.
Cellulitis can occur anywhere on the body. In adults, it often occurs on the legs, face, or arms.
Cellulitis is usually very painful, be sure to keep an eye out for:
Cellulitis can occur anywhere in the body, but more often it develops in the lower legs. It can expand over time, you definitely need to keep an eye on symptoms to determine if the infection is increasing in size.
Always have Cellulitis treated as soon as possible, but emergency treatment is needed if you are experiencing a fever, chills, or swelling in the lymph nodes, as these symptoms are sign that the infection may be spreading throughout the body.
How is it diagnosed?
Doctors are able to diagnose Cellulitis simply based on your symptoms and a quick physical exam. Usually you won’t need further testing; however, your doctor may want more information about what is causing your Cellulitis, in this case further tests will be ordered such as a blood test or MRI.
How is it treated?
Cellulitis is treated with antibiotics. If the infection is mild, you may be able to take antibiotic pills at home.
If the infection is more severe, you may need more care and a stronger antibiotic administered by IV in the hospital.
To help with recovery and feeling better, be sure to follow your doctor's instructions about medicine and skin care.
- Take all of your medicine as prescribed. Finish the medication! Don't stop taking it just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
- Elevate the affected area to reduce swelling as much as possible. Using warm compresses may also help. Talk to your doctor about the steps that are right for you.
- Use pain relievers if needed. Your doctor may prescribe something, or you can use Tylenol to help with pain if you need it.
- Call your doctor if your symptoms get worse or if they haven't started to improve within 2 days after you start taking antibiotics.
- Seek emergency care if you suddenly get a fever and chills or swelling lymph nodes.
What Causes Cellulitis in Seniors?
In general, Cellulitis occurs when bacteria enters the body through breaks in the skin, such as:
- Puncture wounds
- Insect bites
- Dry and flaky patches
- Surgery incisions
Skin naturally becomes drier and thinner with age, and more susceptible to breaks, so seniors have a higher chance of developing cellulitis and other skin infections.
As we age, our sweat and oil glands become less and less active. This causes the skin’s moisture level to drop, which can make it feel dry, rough, and even itchy.
If moisture levels aren’t replenished, older adults may scratch themselves to relieve itchiness, and these scratches provide another way for bacteria to enter the body and cause an infection.
Seniors are more susceptible to shingles and bedsores, which each create yet another way for bacteria to enter the skin.
In some cases, Cellulitis can develop even without a break in the skin. This generally occurs when someone experiences chronic swelling, which can be quite common among older adults.
Seniors sometimes develop Cellulitis because their immune system is weaker, leaving them more vulnerable to infection.
Poor circulation is also a factor that can put seniors at risk for developing Cellulitis. It can be found in those with common conditions like congestive heart failure, hyperlipidemia, and hypertension —putting them at higher risk since decreased blood flow can slow the healing process.
How do You Prevent Cellulitis?
There are some steps you can take to help avoid cellulitis. If you've had cellulitis before, these steps may help prevent it from coming back.
- Take really good care of your skin. Keep it clean, and moisturize often using a good lotion to prevent drying and cracking.
- Hot water and harsh soaps can dry out your skin. Always use lukewarm water, soft wash clothes and non-irritating cleansers.
- Stay hydrated! Be sure you’re drinking enough to replace lost body fluids. We have some information on how to stay hydrated here https://www.canes.on.ca/blog/importance-hydration-seniors
- Invest in a humidifier for your home.
- Wear long sleeves, pants, closed shoes, and gloves while gardening or doing other activities that could cause nicks or scratches.
- Keep your fingernails and toenails trimmed to avoid scratches.
- Check your feet and legs often. This is especially important if you have diabetes.
- Treat any skin infection right away. Talk to your doctor if you need to.
- If you have edema (swelling), ask your doctor about wearing compression stockings or sleeves.
What if You Leave Cellulitis Untreated?
We cannot stress enough that it is very important to see your doctor and get treatment as soon as you notice any signs of Cellulitis or any another skin infection.
The good news is, if cellulitis is caught in the early stages, it can usually be successfully treated with antibiotics at home.
If Cellulitis is left untreated however, the infection can spread pretty quickly to your bloodstream, lymph nodes, or deeper tissues and develop into a condition that will require emergency care. The can progress into a life-threatening infection if left untreated.
Recurrent cases of Cellulitis can damage can cause damage to your body and lead to permanent swelling in the affected area.
Please contact your doctor right away if see any of the signs Cellulitis.