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Cellulitis and how we treat it

Read our guide below about cellulitis and how to treat it.

You can also download a PDF version of this patient information by following the link on the right.

What is cellulitis?

It’s a common infection of the skin and soft tissues underneath.

What causes it?

Cellulitis usually occurs when bacteria (germs), which normally live on the skin’s surface enters a break in the skin, for example a spot, scratch or cut. This allows bacteria to enter the deeper tissues and cause an infection.

The infection may cause redness, swelling, warmth and pain.

What is the treatment?

Cellulitis responds well to antibiotics. You’ll initially get a prescription for a course of oral antibiotic tablets. If this doesn’t improve the cellulitis, your doctor may treat it with intravenous (IV) antibiotics.

IV antibiotics are used in many types of bacterial infections. In some conditions, IV antibiotics are more effective than oral antibiotics for reducing the level of infection.

Where will I get treatment?

If your doctor feels you need IV antibiotics, you may have this as an outpatient. Whenever possible, we’ll ask you come back to the hospital daily to either the:

  • Same Day Emergency Care Unit (SDEC) at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, or
  • Multidisciplinary Unit Day Assessment Service (MUDAS) at Wycombe Hospital.

A nurse, in consultaion with the the doctors will assess if this will be possible.

If it’s not possible to treat you in hospital, you may be able to get your treatment at home.

If you have your treatment in hospital

We may discharge you from hospital with an IV cannula. We’ll insert the canula into one of the veins in your arm so you can get your IV antiobiotic treatment

You’ll get a leaflet explaining about your device and how to look after it.

If you have your treatment at home

The outpatient parenteral antimicrobial therapy (OPAT / IV) team will give you some notes about your treatment. You should keep these with you until the end of your treatment.

We’ll tell your GP about your planned treatment when we discharge you.

How will I know if the IV antibiotics are working?

Your symptoms should start to improve a couple of days after you start taking your antibiotics.

The team looking after you will also:

  • monitor your progress daily to make sure your cellulitis responds to the IV antibiotic treatment
  • review any blood samples they may take
  • make sure you continue to get appropriate treatment
  • tell you if they need to make any changes to your treatment
  • tell your GP about your progress or cnay changes to your treatment plan.

You may need another course of oral antibiotics for 5 to 7 days after the infection reduces. You’ll get this prescription from the the hospital you’re discharged from.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Call the team looking after you, 111 or 999 in an emegency if you have:

  • a raised temperature (fever) or you’re shaking
  • increased or a new pain
  • sore throat, aching, headache, nausea or diarrhoea
  • increased swelling to the area/affected limb
  • difficulty breathing
  • blisters forming around the affcted area
  • dizziness, facial flushing or a rash
  • an increased area of redness
  • swelling anywhere else on the body including the mouth or tongue.

If you need to return to hospital for any reason, take your notes with you or tell them you’re being treated as an outpatient with IV antibiotics.

Things you can do to help your treatment

Follow the advice given to you about the best position to sit in.

If your cellulitis is on your legs, rest and try to keep them elevated as much as possible.

If it’s on your arm, try and keep your lower arm raised above the level of your elbow.

If either of these positions are uncomfortable, lie down as much as possible to help the drainage and circulation of the affected limb.

Although rest and elevation are essential, you must also move the joints around the affected limb, particularly your ankle if your lower leg is affected.

You must also:

  • drink plenty of clear fluids, for example water and squash
  • finish the course of any prescribed oral antibiotics, even though you may feel better and the redness subsides.

Personal aftercare

Once the redness and swelling around the affected area has subsided, you must look after your skin and reduce the risk of further problems.

You can do this or get someone to help you by:

  • washing the affected area daily in warm water
  • applying moisturiser to prevent dry skin, cracks or any scabs from forming
  • avoiding injury to your skin either through trauma or exposure to direct sunlight
  • asking your doctor about compression stockings to help prevent further episodes of cellulitis.

How can I help reduce healthcare associated infections?

Infection prevention and control is important to the wellbeing of our patients so we have procedures in place. Keeping your hands clean is an effective way of preventing the spread of infections.

You, and anyone visiting you, must use the hand sanitiser available at the entrance to every ward before coming in and after you leave. You may need to wash your hands at the sink using soap and water. Hand sanitisers are not suitable for dealing with patients who have symptoms of diarrhoea.

About our patient information

We aim to make the information as up to date and accurate as possible, but please note that it’s subject to change. You must always check specific advice on any concerns you may have with your doctor.

Contact us

Times available

IV Therapy Nurse/OPAT

Bank Holidays (on call basis)

Same Day Emergency Care Unit (SDEC), Stoke Mandeville Hospital

Multidisciplinary Unit Day Assessment Service (MUDAS), Wycombe Hospital

Times available

8.30am to 4.30pm, 7 days a week

9am to 4.30pm

8am to 8pm, Mondays to Fridays and 8am to 5pm, Saturdays and Sundays

8.30am to 5pm, Mondays to Fridays



01296 315485 / 07810 181584

07810 181584

01296 418175

01494 426318

Times available
Times available