How to treat cellulitis with antibiotics

Updated February 21, 2017

Cellulitis is a potentially serious bacterial infection of the skin. It can affect any part of the body but is most commonly found on the arms and legs. The condition appears clinically as a reddened, warm, flat area that spreads with time. The first line of defence against cellulitis is antibiotics.

Consult a GP who will decide whether you need in-patient or outpatient treatment. Severe cellulitis requires intravenous (IV) treatment in a hospital, while less serious cases can be treated at home with an oral antibiotic regimen.

Document with your doctor all the medications you are taking (both prescription and over-the-counter) as well as any known drug allergies. The GP will then prescribe the antibiotic most suitable for your particular health history.

Obtain a prescription for an antibiotic proven effective against group A streptococci and staphylococcus aureus, since these are the bacteria most commonly associated with cellulitis. Many doctors prescribe penicillinase resistant synthetic penicillin or a cephalosporin to treat mild to moderate cellulitis.

Treat your condition with the antibiotic strictly as it is prescribed by your GP. Take the correct dose each day. For example, the general adult prescription of flucloxacillin, erythromycin, or clarithromycin is 500 milligrams four times a day.

Complete your entire prescribed course of antibiotics, even if your condition seems to be getting better. The typical duration is seven to 10 days for an oral antibiotic. See your GP if your condition does not clear up after completing the course.

Check with your doctor if cellulitis does not clear with the first round of oral antibiotics. Occasionally a first-generation long-acting cephalosporin administered intravenously or by an intramuscular injection will be used to treat more severe or enduring outpatient cases of cellulitis.

Speak with your GP about using long-term antibiotic treatment as suppressive therapy if you experience frequent episodes of cellulitis. Discuss whether the benefits of such treatment outweigh the risk of your body developing a resistance to the antibiotic.

Seek emergency medical treatment if, at any time before or during your antibiotic treatment, you experience a fever, a large area of red, inflamed or radically darkened skin, numbness or tingling in the area or if you develop an affected area near the eyes or behind the ears.


Do not delay treatment once cellulitis is suspected, since the bacteria responsible for the condition can progress from the initial dermal level to the bloodstream.

Always check the contraindications of any antibiotics prescribed.

Be aware that certain antibiotics can reduce the effectiveness of birth control pills.

Studies have shown the use of topical antibacterial cream to be ineffective in treating cellulitis.

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