Toe cellulitis, or cellulitis of the foot, is a bacterial infection of the tissues just below the skin. Infected parts of the toe can include skin membranes, muscles, or connective tissues. Most cases of cellulitis are caused by streptococcus or staphylococcus bacteria, commonly known as strep or staph, but it can be caused by many different bacterium types. Healthy, intact skin usually prevents bacteria from entering the body. Any break in the skin, such as small cuts, surgical wounds, and insect or animal bites, can allow bacteria to enter skin tissues and potentially cause infection.
Symptoms of toe cellulitis can include redness or inflammation, pain or tenderness, or an increase in skin temperature in the immediate area. It is also common for redness and inflammation to increase so the skin appears to be stretched or glossy. Additional signs of cellulitis can include fever, chills, and a feeling of being unusually tired or fatigued. Most cases of toe cellulitis are mild, but it can become serious very rapidly if left untreated.
Treatment for toe cellulitis can include keeping the injured area clean, elevating the foot and applying a moist, warm compress. In more advanced cases, a physician might consider prescribing oral antibiotics to kill the invading bacteria. Over-the-counter pain medications are usually effective in treating pain, but a physician can prescribe prescription pain medications for severe infections. In mild to moderate cases, toe cellulitis will usually resolve after 7 to 10 days of treatment. Other underlying medical conditions or a delay in seeking treatment can increase the severity of the condition and prolong recovery.
One underlying condition that can contribute to complications is diabetes. Diabetics often suffer from decreased circulation in the lower extremities and are at a greater risk for foot infections. For this reason, diabetics are often encouraged to take extra precautions to protect their feet from injury. Individuals with conditions such diabetes and atherosclerosis are frequently advised to seek medical treatment for foot injuries as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment play an important part in preventing serious complications from cellulitis, regardless of underlying medical conditions.
The most severe form of cellulitis is known as necrotizing fasciitis, also called the flesh-eating bacteria. Although rare, necrotizing fasciitis is a severe and potentially fatal infection. Treatment often includes the use of powerful intravenous (IV) antibiotics and the surgical removal of infected or dead tissues. If the infection cannot be controlled using these measures, amputation might be considered when the infection is contained in an extremity. It is not uncommon for victims of necrotizing fasciitis to require cosmetic surgery, skin grafts, or other forms of cosmetic surgery after recovering from necrotizing fasciitis.