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Red, Swollen, Painful? Are You FIghting a Losing Battle with a Skin Infection?

Everyone gets a minor infection now and then.   Be it from a scratch or cut or a nasty bug bite.  Most minor infections take care of themselves, but increased redness around a wound is a sign the bacteria is winning the battle.

Cellulitis is an infection of the skin that presents itself as warmth, redness and pain usually beginning from a wound, cut or scrape.  Now don’t get redness around a wound caused by inflammation confused with a cellulitis.  Most wounds will have redness around the wound borders and this is normal inflammation.  When the redness extends greater than 1cm from the borders of the wound or a red streak is seen running up the leg this is cellulitis and needs to be seen by a podiatrist immediately.

Without treatment cellulitis can become a very serious condition.  Skin infections can be treated relatively easily with good wound care as well as the appropriate oral or IV antibiotic therapy.  If left untreated, however, infection can spread up the leg, into deeper tissues like tendon, muscle and bone.

 When it comes to the foot and ankle, muscles, tendons, and bony structures are very close to the skin and can become infected easily.  If infection reaches the muscles or tendons, it can spread up the leg like a highway along the tendons that begin in our legs and end in our feet.  If bone becomes infected, treatment can be much more difficult.

In cases of cellulitis, treatment with the appropriate antibiotic is usually curative because skin and other soft tissue have good blood flow, and the availability of antibiotics is good via the circulation.  Unfortunately, bone does not enjoy the blood flow that soft tissue structures have, and even when IV antibiotics are given, the drug cannot reach the bone very effectively; not to mention that infections of this sort usually occur in patients with other diseases that involve reduction in normal blood flow to the extremities.   The only true cure for a bone infection is removal of the infected bone, and this means, you guessed it amputation.  While some infections may mean just losing a toe, other cases mean partial foot, total foot or even below the knee amputation.

Here are some symptoms that will let you know you need to see the doctor immediately

  • Redness around a wound that measures greater than 1 cm
    • Remember redness less than 1 cm is usually normal
  • Increased warmth of skin when compared to normal unaffected skin
  • Odor to wound where redness started
  • Increased pain to wound site
    • Almost all wounds are painful to touch, but intense pain with pressure or pain at all times is indicative of infection
  • Increased drainage to a wound or white drainage(Pus)
  • A red streak running up the leg
  • Swollen or painful lymph nodes behind the knee or in the groin
  • If you are diabetic or have been diagnosed with poor blood flow or another disorder that limits your body’s ability to fight infection, any redness, cut, scrape or wound should be seen by a doctor immediately
  • Any systemic signs of infection;
    •  Fever
    •  Nausea
    •  Vomiting
    •  Chills
    •  Diarrhea
    •  Increased blood glucose readings
      •  In diabetics with presence of redness or wound

Don’t wait until it is too late to treat cellulitis with oral antibiotics.  Infections left untreated can lead to hospital stays, IV antibiotics and even possible surgery.