More Than Skin Deep: Understanding the Dangers of Cellulitis

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Sharon Hochhauser, FNP with Advanced Dermatology P.C., provides tips on preventing serious skin infections.

Sharon Hochhauser, MSN, RN, FNP

What may seem like a minor skin problem can develop into an extremely serious medical situation if not treated promptly.

July 2019 – When celebrated NFL defensive end J.J. Watt asked for some skin cream to clear up the bumps on his leg, his trainer got him what he really needed: a trip to the hospital and intensive intravenous antibiotics. That lucky call kept the Pro Bowler in the game, scooping up a fourth AFC Defensive Player of the Year award last season. “That’s the scary part of these infections,” says Sharon Hochhauser, a board-certified family nurse practitioner specializing in dermatology with Advanced Dermatology P.C.. “What may seem like a minor skin problem can develop into an extremely serious medical situation if not treated promptly.”

‘Cellulitis’ is the label for infections triggered when bacteria in our environment gain entry through an opening on our skin – even a small crack we may not be aware of. “When people talk about ‘staph’ infections,” explains Hochhauser, “they’re actually referring to Staphylococcus aureus – one of the bacteria responsible for cellulitis. Others include Streptococcus pyogenes. These bacteria may be harmless elsewhere, but if they get under our skin they can create big health problems.”

The American Academy of Dermatology warns that these common skin infections – about 14.5 million cases are diagnosed each year – are on the rise due to increasing risk factors.

Left untreated, cellulitis bacteria can spread to our blood and lymph nodes – and progress into a life-threatening situation. “Obviously very bad news,” notes Hochhauser, “often requiring hospitalization and intravenous antibiotic treatment. But the good news is, when treated early, these infections typically clear up with a visit to the doctor and a course of oral antibiotics.”

During warmer weather, research shows, cases of cellulitis spike, increasing the need for awareness. “If we notice red rash-like spots that change – expand, swell and become warm and tender to the touch – we need to see a doctor ASAP,” emphasizes Hochhauser. “Early intervention is key because advanced infections can cause permanent damage to the lymph system.”

To aid in prevention and early identification of cellulitis infections, Hochhauser offers the following suggestions:

5 Tips to Protect Yourself from Cellulitis

1. Don’t let a tiny cut become a BIG problem: “Every nick deserves attention,” states Hochhauser. “Any skin wound requires regular cleaning with soap and water, as well as appropriate protection, such as Vaseline or an antibiotic ointment and a covering. Unprotected, bacteria can enter very small openings and trigger infection.”

2. Treatment timetable? The sooner, the better: “We need to act as soon as we notice an emerging infection,” stresses Hochhauser. “Redness, swelling, tenderness and warmth, as well as any off-site symptoms like fever or fatigue, mean that we need immediate medical attention.”

3. Take care of other skin conditions: “Athlete’s foot, eczema, dry skin,” lists Hochhauser. “Skin problems that cause cracks can allow bacteria in. Addressing these problems can help us to avoid infection.”

4. Understand your risk level: “Athletes like J.J. Watt are at a higher risk due to injury and the locker-room environment,” says Hochhauser. “There are also several off-field risk factors we need to be aware of, including diabetes, excess weight, circulation problems, lymphedema, and immune-compromising diseases or medicines. Those with higher risk need to practice extra vigilance, in particular regularly checking their feet and legs – places that are particularly susceptible to infections.”

5. Practice practical ‘pampering’: “Treating our skin and our nails with TLC is more than cosmetic,” observes Hochhauser. “It can protect our health: Regular moisturizing can prevent the cracks of dry skin. Staying well-manicured can forestall snags and nicks. These steps feel good – and they’re good for us.”

“When it comes to cellulitis,” concludes Hochhauser, “our awareness can prevent serious infections from putting us on the sidelines.”

Sharon Hochhauser is a board-certified family nurse practitioner specializing in dermatology with Advanced Dermatology P.C.

Advanced Dermatology P.C. and the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery (New York & New Jersey) is one of the leading dermatology centers in the nation, offering highly experienced physicians in the fields of cosmetic and laser dermatology as well as plastic surgery and state-of-the-art medical technologies.

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