What Is Erysipelas?
Erysipelas is a bacterial infection in the upper layer of the
skin. It is similar to another skin disorder known as cellulitis, which
is an infection in the lower layers of the skin. Both conditions are similar in
appearance and are treated in the same way.
Erysipelas is usually caused by the Group A Streptococcus bacterium,
the same bacterium that causes strep throat. The infection results in large,
raised red patches on the skin. This is sometimes accompanied by other
symptoms, including blisters, fevers, and chills. Erysipelas most frequently occurs
on the face and legs.
Erysipelas often improves with treatment. The infection can
usually be treated effectively with antibiotics.
What Are the Symptoms of
Erysipelas symptoms typically include:
red, swollen, and painful area of skin with a raised edge
on the affected area
When erysipelas affects the face, the swollen area usually
includes the nose and both cheeks.
What Causes Erysipelas?
Erysipelas occurs when Group A Streptococcus bacteria penetrate the
outer barrier of your skin. These bacteria normally live on your skin and other
surfaces without causing any harm. However, they can enter your skin through a
cut or a sore and cause an infection. Conditions that cause breaks in the skin,
such as athlete’s foot
and eczema, can sometimes
lead to erysipelas. Erysipelas may also occur when the bacteria spread to nasal
passages following an infection in the nose and throat.
Other causes of erysipelas include:
in the skin
skin conditions, such psoriasis
legs due to health problems, such as heart failure
of illegal drugs, such as heroin
Who Is at Risk for
Young children (especially 2 to 6 years old) and adults over age
60 are more likely to develop erysipelas. Older adults who have weak immune
systems or who have problems with fluid buildup after surgery are at the
How Is Erysipelas Diagnosed?
Your doctor can usually diagnose erysipelas by simply performing
a physical exam and asking you about your symptoms. During the exam, your
doctor will check for swollen, reddened, and warm areas of skin in your face
and legs. Your doctor may also ask you if you’ve recently had another type of
infection or experienced a minor injury, such as a cut or scrape.
How Is Erysipelas Treated?
Most people with erysipelas can be treated at home, but some may
require treatment in a hospital. Depending on the severity of your condition,
your treatment plan can include home remedies, medication, or surgery.
Usually, the affected part of the body must be raised higher than
the rest of your body to reduce swelling. For example, if your leg is affected,
you should try to rest as much as possible with the leg elevated above your
hip. You may prop up your leg on some cushions while lying down. It’s also important
to drink plenty of fluids and to get up and walk around from time to time. You
may have to keep your leg elevated for several days before the swelling goes
Antibiotics, such as penicillin, are the most common treatment
for erysipelas. You may be able to take an oral prescription at home if you
have a mild case of erysipelas. You’ll likely have to take medications for about
one week. More serious cases of erysipelas are generally treated at the
hospital, where antibiotics can be given through a vein (IV). Young children
and older adults may also require treatment in a hospital. Occasionally, the
bacteria don’t respond to the antibiotic and it’s necessary to try a different type
You may also be given painkillers to reduce discomfort and treat the
Antifungal medication for athlete’s foot may be required if this
is the cause of your erysipelas.
Surgery is only required in rare cases of erysipelas that have
progressed rapidly and caused healthy tissue to die. A surgical operation may be
needed to cut away the dead tissue.
What Is the Long-Term
Outlook for Someone with Erysipelas?
For most people, antibiotics will successfully treat erysipelas
within a week. However, it can take longer than a week for the skin to return
to normal, and peeling may occur in the affected areas. People who have
continued episodes of erysipelas may need long-term preventive antibiotic
Without treatment, you may be at risk for various complications,
- gangrene, which refers to
the death of body tissue
- blood poisoning,
which occurs when the infection spreads throughout your bloodstream
and bone infections
It’s also possible for the infection to spread to your brain if you
have erysipelas near your eyes.
How Can Erysipelas Be Prevented?
Although erysipelas can’t always be prevented, you can take the
following steps to lower your risk:
keep wounds clean.
athlete’s foot if you have it.
moisturizers to prevent skin from drying and cracking.
not to scratch your skin.
sure any skin problems, such as eczema, are treated effectively.
You can also prevent future incidences of erysipelas by attending
follow-up appointments with your doctor. They can make sure that the infection
hasn’t come back or spread to other parts of the body.