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Cellulitis can land you in the hospital with IV antibiotics fast! In my (many) years as a therapist, cellulitis is something people  seem to be routinely uneducated about.  Recovering from cellulitis can be a long and difficult journey. Those with lymphedema are at higher risk for cellulitis and having cellulitis can cause damage to the lymphatic system. Knowing the signs of cellulitis and how to reduce your risk of getting it are important.
Cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection usually caused when bacteria enter a wound or area where the skin is open such as a scrape, sore or incision. The most common bacteria that cause cellulitis include Group A ß – hemolytic streptococcus (Strep), Streptococcus pneumoniae (Strep), Staphylococcus aureus (Staph). Staph and strep bacteria are commonly found on the skin and mucous membranes of the mouth and nose in healthy people. The infection happens when there is a break in the skin that allows the bacteria to enter.

The symptoms of cellulitis are skin that is red, swollen, warm  or tender. You may also experience fever, chills or fatigue. At times people also have leaking of  clear fluid or pus in the swollen area. If any of these symptoms occur, call your doctor to develop a plan of attack. 

Anyone can develop cellulitis, but some people have a higher risk than others. If you fall into one of the higher risk categories, you should watch any injuries to the skin carefully:

Lymphedema: Lymphedema is swelling  due to a damaged lymphatic system. The swollen and stretched skin can crack and the protein rich fluid allows for bacterial growth.

Impaired immune system: People who have an impaired immune system are more vulnerable to contracting infections in general. These include people who are undergoing chemotherapy or who take corticosteroids.

Chronic illnesses: Illnesses like diabetes can increase your risk of developing infections. People with diabetes are particularly susceptible to getting sores on their feet and lower legs, which can become infected.

Skin conditions or disorders: Skin conditions and disorders can cause breaks in the skin. These include eczema, shingles, even so-called childhood illnesses like chicken pox.

 Obesity: People who are obese have a higher risk of having cellulitis and of getting it again.

History of cellulitis: If you’ve had cellulitis before, you do have a higher risk of getting it again.

Here’s how can you reduce your risk of cellulitis:

Keep feet clean and dry, including regular washing of feet and changing socks.

Keep feet moisturized to avoid cracking

Examine skin of feet and legs for any open sores, cuts or scrapes and monitor them for signs of infection.

Use antibiotic cream on open skin and keep injuries covered with bandaid if possible.

Keep your nails well-manicured.  When cutting your fingernails and toenails, you want to take care not to injure the surrounding skin

When getting blood drawn, take from a body part that has not had cellulitis

Treat infections promptly.

Avoid injuring your skin.

Treat lymphedema  Of all the medical conditions that increase your risk of getting cellulitis again, lymphedema ranks highest. Lose weight. Research shows that if you are overweight or obese and lose weight, you reduce your risk of getting cellulitis again.

Stop smoking. While more research is needed to know whether smoking increases your risk of getting cellulitis again, research suggests it might.

What’s the big deal?  First of all, Cellulitis can be very painful. It can, if left untreated lead to sepsis which is life threatening.

Cellulitis causes swelling and swelling in itself can cause problems…

Shoes do not fit.  Not having proper footwear can lead to a multitude of issues such as inability to  exercise, slips and falls, and risk for additional skin injuries.

Also, skin is vulnerable to more cracks and scrapes when it is swollen. This is  due to the lack of flexibility of the skin. When there are open areas on the skin, the chance for bacteria to enter the body increases and the chance for cellulitis increases.

Swelling can make moving difficult.  If the swelling in the lower leg, it can become nearly impossible to pull your feet underneath your knees far enough to allow the body to stand. Swelling can make walking difficult due to the weight of the limb 

Ultimately, and maybe most importantly cellulitis like many illnesses has a mental aspect to it.  Things like no shoes that fit, trouble standing up, leaking fluid all make it hard to lead an active lifestyle. Anytime, you have to give up things because of an illness, you can feel down and depressed. That is why it is so important to recognize cellulitis and fight hard to keep it from returning. LIfe is worth it.

What more info?

If you have or had swelling especially in your legs that has persisted, you may have a condition that can be helped through lymphatic treatment.
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