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6 Things That Increase Your Risk of Cellulitis


If you have diabetes, there are two ways you’re more at risk of getting cellulitis. The first is related to the complications of diabetes. Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage) is a common complication of diabetes, and it sometimes makes you lose sensation, particularly in your feet. This means that if you get a foot injury, you may not notice–and that in turn makes you unable to treat it properly, leaving it open for bacteria to enter.

The second way having diabetes puts you at risk for cellulitis is that having high blood sugar–the hallmark of diabetes–negatively affects immune system function, allowing bacteria and other infectious microorganisms to thrive.

If you have diabetes, you can protect yourself against cellulitis at least in part by always wearing supportive shoes and wearing protective gloves when necessary. You should also be watchful so you can pick up on any signs of infection.

Skin conditions

“Pre-existing skin conditions such as athlete’s foot allow skin bacteria to penetrate to deeper layers of the skin and cause infection,” Dr. Adalja explains. Athlete’s foot is characterized by blistering, cracked, or peeling skin under your foot, and that’s what allows the bacteria to invade the skin and the layers beneath it.

Eczema also increases your chances of cellulitis. The skin condition means there’s damage to the barrier of your skin, and you may have more bacteria on your skin than normal, both of which could promote infection.

Chronic swelling

Lymphedema is a condition that causes chronic swelling. With it, the lymphatic system–crucial in helping your body fight disease–is not functioning well. Lymphatic fluid, which carries infection-fighting white blood cells, pools and builds up in the legs and arms. Having this condition puts you at a higher chance of getting cellulitis.

“[The] pooling of fluid in affected regions leads to swelling and can cause skin changes that predispose to infection,” Dr. Adalja says. The lymphatic fluid is also fertile ground for the bacteria to thrive once it enters the skin and soft tissue. Plus, the malfunction of the lymphatic system also means it’s less able to fight infection.

Wounds and Injuries

“Anything that causes a break in the skin such as a wound or abrasion can afford skin bacteria an opportunity to penetrate deeper,” Dr. Adalja explains. Make sure you’re washing and cleaning cuts or scrapes and keeping an eye on them for any signs of infection. Having bed sores can also leave you vulnerable to infection.

Vein problems

Normally, the veins in your legs keep blood moving toward your heart. But with venous insufficiency, the valves in these veins are damaged and don’t stop the blood from flowing backward into the legs. This causes blood to pool and accumulate in the legs, leading to pain, swelling, and, in some serious cases, open sores. Those sores make people with venous insufficiency more susceptible to getting cellulitis, as they are open points through which bacteria can easily invade the skin’s deep tissues.

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