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Cellulitis in Children: Care Instructions

Layers of skin

Your Care Instructions

Cellulitis is a skin infection caused by bacteria, most often strep or staph. It often occurs after a break in the skin from a scrape, cut, bite, or puncture. Or it can occur after a rash.

Cellulitis may be treated without doing tests to find out what caused it. But your doctor may do tests, if needed, to look for a specific bacteria, like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

The doctor has checked your child carefully. But problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Give your child antibiotics as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Prop up the infected area on pillows to reduce pain and swelling. Try to keep the area above the level of your child's heart as often as you can.
  • If your doctor told you how to care for your child's infection, follow your doctor's instructions. If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice:
    • Wash the area with clean water 2 times a day. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
    • You may cover the area with a thin layer of petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, and a non-stick bandage.
    • Apply more petroleum jelly and replace the bandage as needed.
  • Give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to reduce pain and swelling. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not give a child two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.

To prevent cellulitis in the future

  • If your child gets a scrape, cut, mild burn, or bite, wash the wound with clean water as soon as you can. This helps to avoid infection. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
  • Take care of your child's feet, especially if he or she has diabetes or other conditions that increase the risk of infection. Make sure that your child wears shoes and socks. Don't let your child go barefoot. If your child has athlete's foot or other skin problems on the feet, talk to the doctor about how to treat them.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • There are signs that your child's infection is getting worse, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.
  • Your child gets a rash.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.