Cellulitis (Child)

Cellulitis is an infection of the deep layers of skin. A break in the skin, such as a cut or scratch, can let bacteria under the skin. If the bacteria get to deep layers of the skin, it can case a serious infection. If not treated, cellulitis can get into the bloodstream and lymph nodes. The infection can then spread throughout the body.

In children, cellulitis occurs most often on the legs and feet. It is more common in children with a weakened immune system. Cellulitis causes the affected skin to become red, swollen, warm, and sore. The reddened areas have a visible border. Your child may have a fever, chills, and pain. A young child may be fussy and cry and be hard to soothe.

Cellulitis is treated with antibiotics. Symptoms should get better 1 to 2 days after treatment is started. In some cases, symptoms can come back.

Home care

Your child will be given an antibiotic to treat the infection. Make sure to give all the medicine for the full number of days until it is gone. Keep giving the medicine even if your child has no symptoms. You may also be advised to use medicine to reduce fever and swelling. Follow the healthcare provider’s instructions for giving these medicines to your child.

General care

  • Have your child rest as much as possible until the infection starts to get better.

  • If possible, have your child sit or lie down with the affected area raised above the level of his or her heart. This can help reduce swelling.

  • If the skin is broken, follow the healthcare provider’s instructions to care for an open wound and change any dressings.

  • Keep your child’s fingernails short to reduce scratching.

  • Wash your hands with soap and clean, running water before and after caring for your child. This is to prevent spreading the infection.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider.

When to seek medical advice

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fever of 100.4º F (38º C) or higher orally, or over 101.4º F (38.6 C) rectally, after 2 days on antibiotics

  • Symptoms that don’t get better with treatment

  • Swollen lymph nodes on the neck or under the arm

  • Swelling around the eyes or behind the ears

  • Excessive drooling, neck swelling, or muffled voice

  • Redness or swelling that gets worse

  • Pain that gets worse

  • Foul-smelling fluid coming from the affected area

  • Blackened skin

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