What Is the Cause of Cellulitis in Legs?
When skin is healthy, injuries heal quickly. Blood clots close the wound, and strong new tissue is created to repair the damage. However, a variety of skin conditions can disrupt the healing process, increasing your risk of complications. Breaks in the skin fail to close, and the affected area is left open to infection.
The cause of cellulitis in legs is an infection of the skin that occurs when bacteria enter through cuts and tears. In its early stages, the condition can be quite uncomfortable. If left untreated, it is extremely painful – and sometimes downright deadly.
The skin on your lower legs is more at risk for cellulitis, though this condition can develop in other areas of your body. People with a weakened immune system and those with underlying medical issues that affect the skin are most likely to develop cellulitis. Diagnosis and treatment are just the first steps. It is critical to address underlying health problems that impact the skin prevent a recurrence.
Who is at Risk for Cellulitis in the Legs?
Cellulitis can occur whenever skin is damaged, even in patients who are otherwise healthy. Minor cuts, scrapes, and insect bites offer an opportunity for bacteria to enter the body. However, people with medical conditions that impact skin health are at an increased risk. For example, patients who have had a recent surgery risk cellulitis at the site of their surgical incision.
Eczema and athlete’s foot are a common cause of cellulitis in legs, because these conditions lead to itchy, inflamed patches on areas of the skin. The affected skin is more fragile, resulting in a greater number of cuts and tears.
Diabetes is also a frequent underlying cause of cellulitis in legs. High blood sugar levels slow the healing process, so wounds remain open for a longer period. The condition may also lead to swelling in the lower extremities, putting pressure on skin. Cuts, scratches, and blisters occur more easily. The combination of fragile skin and slow healing are risk factors for cellulitis.
Another common cause of cellulitis in legs is untreated vein disease. Conditions such as Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI) occur when the one-way valves that keep blood flowing in the right direction become diseased or damaged. Valve failure allows blood to move backwards, where it pools in the lower half of the body. This increases pressure inside the vessels. As pressure grows, vein walls are strained, leading to symptoms like varicose veins, spider veins, and leg cramps.
Because CVI often causes veins to protrude against the skin, many patients experience itchiness, redness, pain, and swelling of the skin. Their skin may become more fragile, and if the vein disease remains untreated, permanent skin discoloration can result. This discolored skin is easily damaged and slow to heal, increasing the likelihood of cellulitis.
A vein doctor in NY or vein doctor in NJ is the best resource for determining whether your symptoms are caused by vein disease. These specialists can treat the underlying cause of cellulitis in legs to reduce the chances that cellulitis will reoccur.
What are the Symptoms of Cellulitis?
If you have any open wounds on your skin, or your health puts you at increased risk of cellulitis, watch for symptoms like swelling, redness, and warmth in the affected area. You may also notice that your glands are swollen. If cellulitis is not caught early, you are likely to feel some minor pain at first. This can rapidly escalate to significant pain.
It’s important to see your physician right away if you suspect cellulitis, as early treatment can prevent dangerous complications from developing. Treatments for cellulitis include antibiotics to bring the infection under control. In severe or advanced cases, you may be hospitalized so you can receive antibiotics by IV.
Untreated cellulitis may travel to deeper layers of tissue, causing infection in the blood or bones. Your lymph vessels may become inflamed, and in the most severe cases, gangrene can set in. Gangrene is actual death of the affected tissue, and this tissue must be surgically removed. These procedures are painful and dangerous, so it is critical to see your doctor as soon as you notice symptoms.
Can Cellulitis in the Legs Be Prevented?
People who are generally healthy should still take basic precautions against cellulitis. If skin is torn or cut, use basic first aid techniques to clean the area, apply antibiotic ointment, and cover with a bandage until a scab forms.
Those who have additional risk factors that cause cellulitis in legs, such as chronic skin conditions, diabetes, or vein disease, should take extra precautions to prevent cellulitis. For example, using an appropriate topical lotion or medication to prevent skin from cracking reduces opportunities for bacteria to enter the body. Prompt treatment when breaks in the skin do occur can make a big difference.
Consider protective gear when participating in activities where the risk of skin damage is higher, such as sports or hands-on hobbies like gardening. Those with diabetes and vein disease should check their legs and feet each day to spot cuts and breaks that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Addressing underlying issues that put you at higher risk for skin damage is the most important thing you can do to ensure bacteria does not have an opportunity to get into your skin. A dermatologist can offer options for managing chronic conditions like eczema and athlete’s foot, and an endocrinologist will ensure your diabetes is well-managed. Vein disease should be diagnosed and treated by a vein specialist, also known as a phlebologist.
Seeing an expert vein doctor is critical to uncovering and treating vein disease, because this issue often goes undiagnosed. Physicians who specialize in other areas of medicine often attribute symptoms like varicose veins and spider veins to other causes. When vein disease is not correctly diagnosed and treated, the risk of related health problems increases.
If you experience any symptoms of vein disease, consult a specialized vein doctor in New York or vein doctor in New Jersey. These experts are best able to diagnose and treat the condition, reducing the likelihood of developing cellulitis in your legs. You can contact the Vein Treatment Clinic online or by phone to schedule your consultation with a Board-Certified vein expert.