Treatment for cellulitis depends on what caused the infection, the severity of your symptoms and the general state of your health.
You can usually be treated at home with antibiotics if you have mild symptoms.
Hospital treatment may be necessary if you have symptoms such as fever, nausea and vomiting which suggest the infection has spread from your skin to your bloodstream or other parts of the body.
Treatment at home
If you are well enough to be treated at home, you will be given a course of antibiotic tablets.
The length of the course will depend on your circumstances, including how quickly you respond to treatment and whether you have any underlying conditions such as lymphoedema.
The most commonly prescribed antibiotic for cellulitis is flucloxacillin, which is part of the penicillin group of antibiotics.
The most common side effects of flucloxacillin are mild digestive problems, such as an upset stomach or episodes of diarrhoea.
If you cannot take flucloxacillin because you're allergic to penicillin, alternative antibiotics such as erythromycin or clarithromycin can be used.
If it's suspected that your cellulitis was caused by a wound being exposed to contaminated water, you will be given a combination of 2 different antibiotics. This is usually doxycycline or ciprofloxacin in combination with flucloxacillin or erythromycin.
When you first start taking the antibiotics, you may notice that your skin becomes redder. This is usually only a temporary reaction, and the redness should start to fade within 48 hours.
Contact your GP immediately if your symptoms get worse 48 hours after taking the antibiotics, or you develop additional symptoms, such as a high temperature or vomiting.
There are steps you can take at home to ease your symptoms and speed your recovery from cellulitis.
Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
If your leg is affected by cellulitis, keep it raised whilst you are resting, using pillows or a chair. This should make you feel more comfortable and help to reduce the swelling. If possible, the foot should be raised higher than the hip. If your arm is affected, try and keep your lower arm raised above your elbow.
If it's uncomfortable to raise the limb, try to lie down as much as possible. However, it's important to still regularly move the joints, such as your wrists or ankles.
Try to avoid cuts and grazes from activities that increase the risk. For example, by wearing clothing that covers your arms or legs when gardening.
You can also take steps to help prevent cellulitis from reoccurring. For example:
- maintaining good hand hygiene
- keeping your skin moisturised
- treating cuts and grazes or any broken skin caused by a condition such as eczema
- treating fungal infections of the hands or feet, such as athlete's foot
- long-term antibiotics may be prescribed if you experience recurrent cellulitis (more than 2 episodes a year in the same area)
- treatments for lymphoedema if you are diagnosed with the condition
Read more information about preventing cellulitis.
If your cellulitis is causing pain or a high temperature (fever), an over the counter painkiller such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may help.
Treatment at hospital
If you need to be admitted to hospital for treatment, you will be given antibiotics directly into your vein through an injection or a drip (known as intravenous antibiotics).
Once you have recovered from the initial symptoms you can usually be treated with antibiotics at home or as an outpatient, rather than staying in hospital.
The type of antibiotics used depends on the suspected cause of your infection, although a type of antibiotic known as a broad-spectrum antibiotic is often used. This type of antibiotic can kill a range of different strains of bacteria.