What Is Erysipelas?
Erysipelas is a bacterial infection occurring within the upper layers of the skin. It shares several different similarities with a skin disorder known as cellulitis. Erysipelas is typically caused by the group A Streptococcus bacteria, the same bacterium that causes strep throat. In erysipelas, once the group A Streptococcus bacteria enters the body, the infection produces large, raised, and red patches on the skin. In addition to these skin lesions, patients may likewise develop other accompanying symptoms, including blisters, fevers, chills, and other symptoms. While this condition most commonly affects the face and legs, it can occur on multiple body parts. Erysipelas typically improves with treatment from a Boardman dermatologist, and it can often be treated effectively with the use of antibiotics.
Erysipelas Vs Cellulitis
Erysipelas and cellulitis are skin infections and the tissues located below the skin's surface. Erysipelas is a less severe version of cellulitis. Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the deep layer of the skin (dermis) and the layer comprising fat and tissue located just under the skin (subcutaneous tissues). Erysipelas is a bacterial skin infection occurring nearer to the skin's surface than cellulitis, making erysipelas more superficial than cellulitis. Two bacteria cause cellulitis: Staphylococcus aureus and beta-hemolytic streptococcus, and it is most common among the elderly, those with obesity, those with a weakened immune system, those who are pregnant, those with diabetes, and those with severe eczema, severe skin rashes, or those with other conditions producing cracks in the skin. Erysipelas is caused primarily by the Staphylococcus bacteria, and it occurs when bacteria enter the skin through cuts, sores, or other damaged skin areas. Like other forms of cellulitis, erysipelas is not considered to be contagious, as the bacteria causing these conditions has to enter the body through broken skin, such as through a cut, insect bite, or scratch.
In most cases, a person with erysipelas feels unwell or ill before noticing any visible signs of the condition appearing on the skin. Some common symptoms include a high fever, shivering, chills, a general feeling of unwell, swollen glands, blisters on the affected area, and a red, swollen, and painful area of skin with a raised edge, among other symptoms. When this condition affects facial skin, the swollen area generally covers the nose and cheeks. Particular areas of the skin are affected and can be characterized in the following ways.
- Swollen & Shiny
- Warm To The Touch
- Tender To The Touch
- Blisters On The Skin
- Sharp Borders Surrounding Affected Skin
- Pink Or Red Streaks Above The Affected Area
- Lesions That Turn Purple Or Black In Severe Cases
Erysipelas occurs when group A Streptococcus bacteria penetrate the outer layer of the skin. These bacteria naturally exist on the skin and on other surfaces, usually without posing any harm or danger to health. Should these bacteria enter the skin through a cut, sore, or another type of opening, they can cause an infection and potentially result in erysipelas. Conditions that cause the skin to become damaged or broken, such as eczema and athlete's foot, can likewise result in the development of erysipelas. Erysipelas may likewise occur when group A Streptococcus bacteria spread from the skin or other surfaces to the nasal passages after a nose-and-throat infection. Additional risk factors for erysipelas include ulcers in the skin; surgical incisions; insect bites; psoriasis and related conditions of the skin; swollen legs due to heart failure, diabetes, and other health conditions; injection sites of drugs, including heroin; and cuts and scrapes, among other skin injuries. Young children, particularly those 2–6 years of age and adults over 60 years of age, are generally more likely to develop erysipelas. Additionally, adults with weakened immune systems and issues regarding fluid retention and buildup following a surgical procedure are also at an increased risk.
Your dermatologist in Boardman, Ohio, can usually diagnose erysipelas by performing a physical examination of the affected area or areas of skin and by asking questions about your symptoms. During your exam, your provider will likely inspect your skin for swollen, red, and warm areas of skin on the face and the legs, among other areas of the body. Your doctor may also ask you questions about any other infections and injuries, both minor and severe, you may have experienced recently to diagnose erysipelas. Your doctor may require a blood test if there are any indications of systemic infection, such as bacteria in the blood. These tests can help identify raised levels of white blood cells due to tissue damage and bacterial infections, positive blood cultures indicating a bacterial infection, and the presence of a specific type of infection, such as those developed from a bite from an infected animal.
In most cases, erysipelas can be treated at home, though some patients may require treatment in a hospital or medical facility. This usually depends on the severity of the condition, which will also dictate the condition's treatment. Treatments for erysipelas can range from home remedies to surgery. It is important to start treatment for erysipelas as early as possible to limit the possibility of additional complications from the infection.
Antibiotics, such as penicillin, are the most commonly prescribed treatment for erysipelas. Patients with a mild case of erysipelas may be able to take an oral prescription at home. With more serious cases of erysipelas, treatment is typically performed in a medical facility where antibiotics can be delivered to the patient intravenously (IV). Those particularly vulnerable to this infection, such as the very young and older adults, may likewise require treatment in a hospital. Should the bacteria fail to respond to the antibiotic, it may be necessary to take a different type of prescribed medication. Medication for reducing discomfort or reducing a high fever may also be given when appropriate. Certain antifungal medications, such as those used for treating athlete's foot, may be required if this is the cause of erysipelas. Surgery is usually required only in rare cases of erysipelas when the infection has progressed rapidly and has caused healthy tissue to die. In these situations, a surgical operation may be required to excise, or cut and remove, the dead tissue.
How Long Does Erysipelas Last?
For most people, antibiotics can effectively treat erysipelas. Treatment for erysipelas typically lasts up to a week, but it may take longer. Additionally, it may take additional time for the skin to return to normal and peeling to stop in the affected areas. Individuals with recurrent erysipelas or continued episodes may require long-term preventative treatment with antibiotics. Seeking treatment is vital for your overall health and longevity. Without treatment, you may be at risk for many serious complications, including the following.
- Joint Infections
- Bone Infections
- Infections Within Heart Valves
- Blood Clots
- Infection Spread To The Brain
- Lesions Near The Eyes
Though erysipelas cannot always be prevented, there are certain steps you can take to help reduce your risk of developing this skin condition. In addition to the following erysipelas prevention measures, you can also prevent future incidences of erysipelas by scheduling and attending follow-up appointments with your dermatologist or doctor. They can help ensure the infection has not returned or spread to other body parts. For more information about this bacterial skin infection or to schedule an appointment with our dermatology specialists, please contact Advanced Dermatology and Skin Cancer Center.
- Treat any incidence of outbreaks right away.
- Always keep wounds clean, dry, and protected.
- Use dermatologist-recommend skin care to help prevent skin from cracking.
- Seek prompt treatment for athlete's foot, if applicable.
- Try to avoid scratching your skin.
- Seek professional treatment promptly for conditions, such as eczema and diabetes.