Erysipelas and cellulitis are skin infections that develop as a result of bacterial entry through breaches in the skin, and even a medical professional finds it difficult to determine the differences of erysipelas vs. cellulitis. Erysipelas is a slight infection involving the skin and upper subcutaneous tissues, whereas cellulitis is a non-contagious infection of the skin.
Causes of Erysipelas vs. Cellulitis
Bacteria that penetrate the outer layer of your skin cause erysipelas. The most common bacteria are streptococci (strep) that normally live on your body’s skin surfaces without causing any harm. However, the bacteria can enter the lower tissues under your skin and hence cause an infection. The conditions that can cause a break in the skin may include eczema and athlete’s foot. Additionally, erysipelas may be caused by anything that prevents fluid or blood drainage from a wound on your body. When erysipelas affects your face, it may have been spread there from the nasal passages following an infection in your throat and nose.
You tend to develop erysipelas if you are/have:
- Young children (especially 2 to 6 years old) and adults over age 60
- Surgical incisions
- Weak immune systems
- Skin ulcers
- Psoriasis and other skin disease
- Insect bites
- Swollen legs
- Injecting illegal drugs, such as heroin
Cellulitis is caused when bacteria, most commonly strep and staphylococcus (staph), enter your skin through a break or crack. While cellulitis may occur anywhere on the body, and the location is more common in the lower leg. However, the bacteria are more likely to enter the damaged areas of the skin, such as a puncture wound, an ulcer, superficial cuts, recent surgery, athlete’s foot, and dry and flaky skin. Spider bites and other insect bites may also transmit the bacteria.
Several other factors that can place you at greater risk of developing cellulitis include:
- Weakened immune system
- Chronic swelling of your arms or legs (lymphedema)
- Skin conditions
- History of cellulitis
Erysipelas vs. Cellulitis: What Are Their Symptoms and Complications?
Unlike cellulitis, the lesion from erysipelas is raised, and there is a clear line at the edge of the erysipelas infected lesion. When erysipelas affects the face, the swollen area usually includes the nose and both cheeks. However, cellulitis is more likely to be associated with lymphangitis, an inflammation of one or more lymphatic vessels which usually occur on one side of the body.
Common symptoms of erysipelas and cellulitis can include:
- A swollen, red, and painful area of skin with a raised edge (erysipelas)
- A red area of skin that tends to expand (cellulitis)
- Swollen glands
- General tissue swelling
- Tenderness and pain
- Feels warm to the touch
- Blisters on the affected area
- Red spots
- Skin dimpling
At most time, cellulitis and erysipelas share the same complications. They can spread throughout the body and enter the bloodstream and lymph nodes. Potential complications can include:
- A blood infection
- A bone infection
- An inflammation of lymph vessels
- Tissue death, or gangrene
- Abscess formation
- A blood clot due to inflammation (Thrombophlebitis)
- An inflammation or an infection of the lymphatic channels (Lymphangitis)
- Chronic leg oedema (a late complication which may predispose to further episodes of infection)
Less common, more serious complications (occurring less than1%) can include:
- A rapid destruction of the overlying tissues (Necrotising fasciitis)
- An inflammation of bone or bone marrow (Osteomyelitis)
- Compartment syndrome
- An inflammatory disease of both kidneys (Acute glomerulonephritis)
- An inflammation affecting the heart (Endocarditis)
- Blood poisoning (Septicaemia)
- Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome
Erysipelas vs. Cellulitis: Treatment Options to Go For
1. Erysipelas Treatments
- Home care
General measures include rest, and elevation of any affected limbs higher than the rest of your body to reduce swelling. You’ll want to drink plenty of fluids, and it’s important that you move around from time to time. This may continue for several days before the swelling goes away.
Antibiotics are the most common treatment for erysipelas. You will take the medications for about a week. However, more serious cases are generally treated at the hospital, where antibiotics may be given intravenously. Older adults and young children might also require treatments in hospital. Other medication may be given to reduce pain and fever, or anti-fungal medication for those with athlete’s foot.
In rare cases of erysipelas that have progressed rapidly and caused healthy tissue to die, a surgical operation may be needed to cut away the dead tissue.
2. Cellulitis Treatments
The treatment for cellulitis is much the same as it is with erysipelas. Antibiotics are used to treat the infection, and medication is prescribed for pain and inflammation. However, these treatments are usually extended over a longer period of time, depending on the severity of the condition, and it’s important to take all of the medication prescribed to ensure proper treatment. This longer treatment can also result if you suffer from a chronic disease or if your immune system isn’t working properly.
Contact your physician immediately if you aren’t responding to treatment within a few days after beginning a round of antibiotics, if your symptoms get progressively worse, or if you develop a fever. However, those with certain risk factors and pre-existing conditions might need a stay in the hospital for observation during treatment. Your physician may admit you for hospitalization if:
- Your blood pressure is high.
- There is an infection that doesn’t improve with antibiotics.
- You have a compromised immune system due to other diseases.
- Intravenous (IV) antibiotics are needed.
Erysipelas vs. Cellulitis: Can I Prevent Them?
Although cellulitis and erysipelas are difficult to prevent, you can take the following precautions to help lower your risk, such as:
- Clean any cuts or sores in your skin immediately, and apply an antibiotic cream or ointment.
- Until the wound begins healing, keep it covered with a bandage, and change it regularly.
- Treat athlete’s foot with an anti-fungal medication as soon as it presents.
- Use skin cream moisturizers to help prevent dry and cracked skin.
- Avoid scratching and damaging your skin.
- Treat any skin diseases such as eczema or psoriasis as needed.
- Wear protective gear when needed to avoid any injury to the skin.
- Make sure you follow up with any appointments you may have with your health care provider.