Cellulitis in Children

What is cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a spreading skin infection. It may affect the upper skin layer. Or it may affect the deeper skin and layer of fat under the skin. When cellulitis affects the upper skin layer, it may be called erysipelas. This type of infection is more common in children. Cellulitis is most common in the lower legs, but it may affect any part of the body. One area that may be affected is around the eyes. This is called periorbital cellulitis.

What causes cellulitis?

Any opening in the skin can lead to an infection and to cellulitis. The germs that usually cause cellulitis are:

  • Strep (beta-hemolytic streptococci)
  • Staph (Staphylococcus aureas), including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureas (MRSA)

Who is at risk for cellulitis?

A child is at risk for cellulitis if he or she has:

  • Skin injury. It may be minor, like an insect bite, scrape, or cut. Or it may be more serious. It may be an animal bite, or from something entering the skin (penetrating injury).
  • Skin inflammation. This may be caused by a skin condition like eczema or from radiation therapy.
  • Skin infection. Other skin infections that are common in children include impetigo and ringworm (tinea).
  • Immune system problems. HIV/AIDS and other conditions make the immune system weak. Cancer medicines also affect the immune system.

What are the symptoms of cellulitis?

Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. They can include:

  • Skin that is swollen, painful, or warm
  • Skin that looks red, bruised, dimpled, or blistered
  • Swollen lymph glands (nodes) nearby
  • Swollen lymph vessels nearby, appearing as red streaks on the skin
  • Fever and chills
  • High heart rate
  • Low blood pressure

The symptoms of cellulitis can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is cellulitis diagnosed?

The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she will give your child a physical exam. Testing is usually not needed. But in some cases, samples of wound drainage or blood may be taken. These are then tested for signs of bacteria. This is called a culture.