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Is Cellulitis Surgery Necessary?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Cellulitis is a serious type of bacterial skin infection. It is usually caused by strains of staphylococcus or streptococcus embedding inside wounds or open lesions on the skin. A course of strong antibiotics, medications for other symptoms, and proper care of the site of infection are usually enough to cure the condition, so cellulitis surgery is typically unnecessary. In severe and special cases, however, cellulitis surgery may be considered to prevent serious complications. Surgery is performed when an infection is very deep, surrounds a limb, spreads quickly, or begins actually killing skin tissue.

Mild cellulitis is characterized by skin redness, inflammation, and tenderness in a well-defined patch. Mild fever, nausea, and fatigue may accompany infection. Doctors usually treat mild cellulitis on an outpatient basis with oral antibiotics and topical itch- and pain-relieving creams. No further medical care or surgical intervention is necessary unless the rash starts to worsen or spread despite about two weeks of antibiotic treatment.

More serious cases of cellulitis may require a hospital stay. Patients can experience spreading rashes, high fevers, muscle and joint aches, and persistent nausea. Symptoms and the underlying condition are treated accordingly with antibiotics, careful wound dressing, fluids, and monitoring. Cellulitis surgery does not even need to be considered in the majority of cases, and infections begin to clear up within one to three weeks.

Certain factors do indicate the need for cellulitis surgery or at least a consultation with a surgical specialist. Circumferential cellulitis, which refers to a rash that reaches all the way around an arm, leg, or neck, increases the risk of damage to nerves and blood vessels that stretch below the rash. Surgery is needed to ensure that vital structures are preserved and remove sections of severely damaged skin tissue. Cellulitis that appears around an eye may also indicate the need for surgery to prevent possible vision loss.

Some cases of aggressive cellulitis form abscesses deep within the innermost layers of skin. An abscess is typically very difficult to treat non-surgically. A specialist can drain excess pus and fluid from the abscess and remove it around its borders with a scalpel. The surrounding skin can be glued, sutured, and treated with topical antibiotics to reduce scarring.

An untreated rash may impair blood supply to a patch of skin, causing the cells to die. The result is called necrotizing fasciitis and can lead to permanent black marks and deformities. Cellulitis surgery is necessary whenever signs of necrotizing fasciitis are present. With immediate care, most cases of cellulitis can be overcome without lasting complications.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By fBoyle — On Apr 23, 2013

My cousin had to have surgery for cellulitis. She got cellulitis after having collagen fillers injected around her lip area. She didn't realize how bad it was until the infection spread. Her doctors were scared that the infection would spread to her brain and I think some tissue death had started as well so they operated. A part of her face is deformed now, it's very sad.

By turquoise — On Apr 22, 2013

@turkay1-- I'm glad to hear you're well now. I've had several cellulitis infections myself, I know how bad they can be. I would like to share what my doctor told me at the time. My cellulitis kept coming back every four or five months and I was starting to worry that it was going to end up with surgery sooner or later.

My doctor said that cellulitis surgery won't be necessary as long as I know to look out for first signs of infection and seek treatment immediately. The reason why cellulitis can be dangerous is because it can spread very quickly. By catching the infection early on and starting antibiotics right away, the infection can be controlled and stopped before it becomes serious.

My doctor has me keep oral antibiotic tablets at home in case I have another cellulitis infection and can't get a prescription right away. If I develop skin redness and fever, I basically rush to the ER to get IV antibiotics.

So keep an eye out for signs at all time and if you're ever unsure, visit the hospital. I hope that you won't experience it again. I've been free of cellulitis for a year and a half and I'm hoping that it's done with.

By candyquilt — On Apr 22, 2013

I didn't realize that cellulitis can be so serious as to require surgery. I had cellulitis briefly after my breast surgery. I was still in the hospital when it happened and it cleared up very quickly because I was put on IV antibiotics. I haven't had it since and I hope I don't again.

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