Q My mother has just been told she has cellulitis in her leg, resulting from what looked like a scratch. It looks awful. What is cellulitis and how should it be treated?
A: Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin, and the tissue beneath the skin. This causes the skin to rapidly become red, hot, painful, very tender to the touch and swollen. People may also have flu-like symptoms, such as chills and shivers, and feel sick.
The cause is any sort of break in the skin, which ‘opens the door for normally harmless bacteria to get in,’ explains GP Dr Rob Hicks (robhicks.co.uk). This includes a scratch, cut, sting or bite, dry skin, and post-operative wound or ulcerated skin.
Cellulitis used to be rare but is now a common condition. This may be due to certain strains of bacteria becoming more virulent, or because there are more people with risk factors for cellulitis (see below).
Risk factors include being overweight, circulation problems and diabetes. These increase the risk of infection, because of factors such as reduced blood supply and weakened immune system. Some drugs (eg corticosteroids) suppress the immune system.
Skin conditions that increase the risk of breaks in the skin barrier bring a greater risk. These include eczema, psoriasis, athlete’s foot, and even dry skin. So keeping skin adequately moisturised is vital. Also consider taking an omega-3 Essential Fatty Acid supplement such as IdealOmega 3 by Ideal Omega (take one capsule daily, £23.70 for 60 capsules).
If you notice any breaks in the skin, keep them clean and cover with a dressing or plaster.
Seek medical advice immediately if you suspect cellulitis. The infection can develop into an abscess and/or spread into the blood causing blood poisoning (septicaemia). TV personality Vanessa Feltz – whose leg felt ‘like a sausage that was about to burst’ – had to have invasive surgery when she had cellulitis recently. So consult your GP, or visit A&E.
Most people can be treated with oral antibiotics at home. However, those who feel very unwell or have underlying health problems may need to be treated in hospital with intravenous antibiotics. Because antibiotics deplete good gut bacteria too, consider a probiotic supplement such as Mega Probiotic ND by Food Science of Vermont (take one capsule twice daily, £18.50 for 60 capsules).
Over the counter painkillers help relieve pain. As with all infections, it’s important to avoid dehydration so drink plenty of liquid. If the leg is infected, keep it elevated.
Keep your immune system strong. This gives you the best chance of fighting any infections effectively. Eat well, take daily exercise, get plenty of rest and sleep – and, of course, don’t smoke.
Skincare Clinic: Balance Your pH
A reader asks what skincare to use for her very dry skin, which tends to psoriasis. Consultant dermatologist Justine Hextall recommends the Cetaphil range, which has the same natural pH (acid alkali balance) as the skin. ‘A change in pH underpins so many inflammatory skin conditions. Cetaphil is gentle and helps to keep the skin barrier intact,’ says Dr Hextall. Ten Victoria Health customers, all with dry skin conditions, trialled Restoraderm Skin Restoring Body Wash by Cetaphil, £15.99 for 295ml, and were delighted. ‘I’m happy to report very good results. It is very soothing resulting in far less instances of bedtime itching and improved sleep,’ said one.
Brush Away The Blues
January can be such a doleful month, but doing something creative in the company of others is a surefire way to lose the blues. You don’t need to be a gifted artist to express yourself. My local Thursday Painters group brings extraordinary delight and satisfaction to its dozen or so middle-aged ‘pupils’, including me. Writing is another option (if you don’t do it for a living!). Journalling is both satisfying and therapeutic: Beverly Frydman, who runs courses around West London (creativejournalwriting.com), describes it as ‘yoga on the page’. There’s oodles of other ideas from knitting groups to community cooking: do email and let me know others.
Look Chic, No Sweat
If you love dynamic yoga or any fast class, but can’t find stylish kit, the bamboo range of yoga, pilates and home/travel wear form Asquith London could be the answer. Bamboo is natural, soft, durable, and wicks away moisture from the body so no sweat patches! There is also an organic cotton range. A long-term Asquith fan, my tester likes the comfort, cut ‘and the fact the clothes last for years’. She particularly likes the bamboo cami £35 and tie pants.