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How Serious is Cellulitis in the Elderly?

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection common in middle-aged and older adults. It spreads throughout the skin and affects deeper fat tissues just beneath. As you age, your skin naturally becomes more susceptible to this infection, which enters your body through cuts and scrapes. That is why it’s important to ensure infections do not get inside your skin and multiply.

Cellulitis can occur anywhere in your body, but it develops more often in your lower legs. However, it can increase in size over time and that’s why it’s important to keep an eye out for symptoms. Signs of cellulitis in the early stages include:

  • Blisters

  • Blotchiness

  • Dimples

  • Redness

  • Spots

  • Swelling

Additionally, the infection can spread and if that happens, you’ll need emergency treatment immediately. You should seek treatment if the infection expands and you have:

  • Chills

  • Fever

  • Swollen lymph nodes

As you age, your skin becomes naturally drier and thinner, making it more susceptible to breaks. Recurrent cellulitis in the elderly is most often caused by bacteria entering these breaks. These include:

  • Abrasions

  • Bedsores

  • Burns

  • Cuts

  • Dry and flaky patches

  • Insect bites

  • Puncture wounds

  • Shingles

  • Surgery incisions

  • Ulcers

Additionally, seniors with weaker immune systems will be more prone to infections, increasing their chances of developing cellulitis. Poor circulation is another factor. Decreased blood flow can slow the healing process, putting you at higher risk. This can be found in those with conditions such as congestive heart failure, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, and even cancer.

If left untreated, cellulitis can spread to other parts of your body and develop into a life-threatening condition requiring emergency care. Cellulitis in elderly individuals can also damage the lymphatic drainage system and cause permanent swelling in the affected area. That is why it is important to treat symptoms immediately.

Cellulitis elderly treatment includes:

  • Antibiotics (usually taken between five and 14 days)

  • Pain relievers when needed (i.e. acetaminophen)

  • Treating underlying conditions that cause cellulitis (i.e. edema, eczema, diabetes)

  • Elevating the affected area and using warm compresses

  • Seeking emergency care if you get a sudden fever and chills or swelling lymph nodes

You can prevent this condition by:

  • Cleaning and moisturizing your skin with good lotions to prevent cracking and drying

  • Using lukewarm water and non-irritating cleansers when bathing

  • Keeping your fingernails and toenails trimmed to avoid scratching

  • Wearing pants, long sleeves, closed shoes, and gloves while performing physically demanding activities such as gardening to prevent nicks and scratches

  • Keeping hydrated

  • Using a humidifier

  • Wearing compression sleeves or stockings, especially if you have edema

  • Treating skin infections right away and consulting your doctor when needed

  • Regularly checking your legs and feet, especially if you have diabetes




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