Cellulitis is a common, potentially serious bacterial skin infection. The affected skin will appear swollen and red and is typically painful and warm to the touch. Although cellulitis can appear anywhere on your body, the most common location is the lower leg.

Q: How do I know if I have cellulitis?

A: Possible symptoms (which typically appear on only one part of the body) may include: red area of skin that tends to expand, swelling and tenderness, pain, fever, red spots or blisters, and skin dimpling.

Q: What causes cellulitis?

A:  Cellulitis is usually caused when a crack or break in your skin allows bacteria to enter. Among some of the causes are infections after surgery, long-term skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis, or foreign objects in the skin.

Q: Is this a serious condition?

A: It can be. Hospitalization could be required if the infection is severe, you have other medical problems, you’re very young or very old, the cellulitis covers large areas, is on your hands, or is close to body parts like your eyes, or if the infection continues to worsen.

Q: Are there any particular injuries or diseases that may be at risk for cellulitis?

A: Yes. Animal or human bites, puncture wounds deeper than a half-inch (as from stepping on a nail), crushed tissue that bleeds, burns that blister, frostbite, deep injuries with dirt in them, injuries that touch sea water (making them more prone to infection), diabetes or other significant medical conditions such as liver or kidney disease, or swelling in your arms or legs that will not go away.

Q: What can you do to treat cellulitis?

A: You should call your dermatologist for an appointment. In the meantime, you can try the following:

• Rest the area

• Elevate the area to ease swelling and discomfort

• Use over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to ease the pain, as well as keep your fever down

• Make sure it heals over the next few days

Q: Is there anything you can do to prevent cellulitis?

A: There are several steps you can take for prevention including: gently washing your wound daily with soap and water, applying a protective cream or ointment, covering your wound with a bandage, and watching for signs of infection. Also, practice good personal hygiene and keep your skin clean, wear sturdy, well-fitting shoes or slippers with loose-fitting cotton socks. And don’t walk barefoot outdoors.

Most people with cellulitis will begin to improve in two to three days. However, continued redness, pain, fever and drainage all signal possible infection, and the need for medical evaluation. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, call a dermatologist.

Dr. Oswald Lightsey Mikell, certified by the American Board of Dermatology and the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, is the owner of Dermatology Associates of the Lowcountry.