Cellulitis is a skin infection caused by bacteria. Before we discuss the steps to prevent cellulitis, let us first understand how exactly this condition is caused. The normal human skin is a barrier against bacteria but when the normal continuity of the skin is disrupted (due to any reason including an injury, insect bite or ulcers) the bacteria may find their way into deeper layers of the skin and spread the infection there. This is called ‘cellulitis’.
The signs and symptoms of cellulitis are essentially those of inflammation, which are identified by pathologists as ‘Calor’, ‘Rubor’, ‘Dolor’ and ‘Tumor’. Basically the affected area becomes hot, red, painful and swollen. This is a gradual process and the severity varies accordingly.
We can prevent Cellulitis by:
a) Preventing skin injuries.
b) Treating those injuries properly if they do occur.
The first step is to prevent cuts, insect bites, ulcers, bruises and anything else that may cause skin problems. This can be achieved by wearing protective gear during outdoor sports, wearing proper boots while trekking, wearing gloves and long sleeves while gardening, and protecting oneself from insects while camping.
Another simple but effective way to prevent cellulitis is to keep your fingernails trimmed. The longer your fingernails are, the more the chances that you have of scratching yourself. Also, if the fingernails are long then they are more likely to harbour bacteria. The above measures may sound simple but are really helpful in preventing injuries and in-turn, cellulitis.
After discussing some simple steps of preventing injuries, let us now discuss what to do in case of an injury. Make sure to immediately wash the wound with lots of water and antibiotic soap. Alcohol (40 to 70% concentration) can also be used for this purpose. Dettol and Hydrogen Peroxide are other alternatives. Wash the wound for at least 5 to 10 minutes to allow the soap (or alcohol) to act on the bacteria and kill them.
Apply an antiseptic cream over the wound and cover it with clean gauze. Change the gauze every day. This will promote regeneration of skin and help restore the barrier against bacteria. In case of a large wound, do not hesitate to seek medical advice. A medical practitioner will decide whether to prescribe antibiotics or not.
Make sure to see a doctor if you notice any ‘danger signs’ like redness, swelling, excessive pain, drainage of pus from the wound or fever because timely medical intervention is required to stop the spread of infection. In such a case, oral or intravenous antibiotics may be required to keep the infection in check. Do not take antibiotics without consulting a doctor.
Research has shown that individuals with dry skin, obesity, diabetes, lymphedema, HIV/AIDS, chickenpox and shingles, are more prone to develop cellulitis infection. Such individuals should be extra-cautious in case of any injuries.
Last but not the least, frequent hand washing and good personal hygiene are cornerstones of preventing all infections, including cellulitis.
A seemingly innocuous injury can take the form of cellulitis and if untreated, cellulitis may become a life threatening condition. So it is better to be cautious and treat every injury with care, no matter how small it is.
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