Cellulitis In Children: What To Do?

cellulitis in children

Kids fall down, scrape their knees and usually these minor cuts and bruises are just a part of growing up that don’t cause serious problems. But did you know that even a minor cut or scrape could lead to a bacterial infection? Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the inner layers of skin and underlying tissue. This infection can develop suddenly and spread rapidly, it can even be life threatening if it spreads deep into the body.1 When the upper layer of the skin is affected by cellulitis, the condition may be called erysipelas and this infection can be more common in children.2 However, erysipelas and cellulitis can overlap and it may not always be possible to distinguish between the two.3

Cellulitis most commonly affects the lower legs but you can get it on any part of the body. And if it affects the eyelid or tissues around the eye ( a condition known as orbital cellulitis) your child may need especially close monitoring as it can progress to a stage where vision is impacted.4 5


The Signs Of Cellulitis

Here are some signs of cellulitis that you should watch out for:

  • Your child’s skin reddens, and becomes hot and swollen. It will also be painful and there may be blisters filled with pus or blood.
  • She may feel unwell, get the chills, or shiver. These symptoms may occur before or along with the changes to her skin.
  • If she has a fever (a temperature of of 38C (100.4F) or above), is breathing rapidly, vomiting, feeling dizzy or confused, has clammy, cold or pale skin, or is losing consciousness then it is a sign that the infection has spread. This can be very serious, even life threatening, and requires emergency treatment.6

What Causes It?

Cellulitis is usually the result of a bacterial infection. Most commonly strep (beta-hemolytic streptococci) or staph (staphylococcus aureas) bacteria are responsible. In babies younger than 3 months it’s most often caused by group B streptococci.7


The bacteria that cause cellulitis usually live on the skin without doing any harm but they can cause an infection if they get in through a break in the skin. And it doesn’t need a large wound, even a small cut that’s not even noticeable can be enough. But cellulitis is usually not contagious since the infection is deep in the skin and the bacteria that cause it are often found on your skin’s surface anyway.8 9

Risk Factors

Certain things can increase your child’s chances of getting cellulitis:

  • Any skin injury can turn infections. This could be a minor scrape, an insect bite, or a deep cut.
  • Cracked or dry skin and conditions that cause them like eczema or athlete’s foot.
  • A weak immune system, for instance, due to HIV or cancer treatments.
  • Diabetes can also be a risk factor as high blood sugar can impact healing and may lead to loss of feeling which makes it less likely that you’ll notice wounds.10 11

How Do You Treat It?

Cellulitis is normally treated through oral antibiotics. If the infection is serious the antibiotics may be given directly into a vein through an injection or an IV drip.12

If your child has been given antibiotics to take at home you can do a couple of things to help her like keeping the affected part elevated so that swelling is reduced and giving her enough fluids so that she doesn’t get dehydrated. And do keep on mind that your doctor may ask you return in a couple of days to check that she’s improving, it’s important not to miss that doctor’s visit.13


Some natural remedies like cat’s claw, witch hazel bark,14 and manuka honey15 have been found effective against bacteria that can cause cellulitis. You might also want to check with your doctor whether using these in addition to the prescribed treatment can be helpful.

When Should You See A Doctor?

It’s important to see a doctor immediately if a part of your child’s skin becomes warm, painful, and red. This is particularly critical if the skin on the face is affected or your child has diabetes, or a compromised immune system. Since cellulitis can develop very quickly after an animal bite, it’s also a good idea to see a doctor if your child has been bitten by an animal (or even another human!).


Remember, early treatment can prevent this infection from becoming severe and if it’s not treated quickly serious problems like blood poisoning (septicaemia) and kidney damage could potentially develop.16 17

What Precautions Can You Take To Prevent It?

There are a few precautions that you can take against this condition:

  • Though it might be difficult to stop inquisitive and active kids from getting cuts and scrapes, using protective equipment can be useful. For instance, using helmets while riding bikes, knee and elbow pads while skating, shin guards during soccer, long sleeved shirts on hikes, and sandals on the beach can make a difference.
  • Clean cuts and wounds right away and use antibiotic ointment.
  • Make sure your child’s nails are sort so that the chances of breaking skin while scratching are reduced.
  • Make sure that your child washes her hands regularly and doesn’t touch any area that’s injured.
  • Use a moisturizer if your child’s skin is dry so that itching (and scratching) is redu.18 19