Can I Use Antibiotics for Cellulitis?

Lori Smith

Oral antibiotics for cellulitis are the most common and effective treatment available for the bacterial skin infection. Usually, the medicine is prescribed in pill form, however, in extreme cases, intravenous (IV) antibiotics may be administered directly into a vein. When IV therapy is needed to treat the infection, hospitalization is generally required. Visiting the doctor at the first sign of symptoms can lead to a faster recovery, and avoid more serious complications from developing.

Prescription antibiotics.
Prescription antibiotics.

The type of oral antibiotics for cellulitis prescribed by doctors usually depends on the severity, and strain, of the infection. Since there are generally two types of bacteria that cause the infection, staphylococci and streptococci, it is often helpful when the doctor is able to establish which one has caused the condition. Sometimes, people contract the infection through a skin lesion or an insect bite. If you are aware of the source, that information, along with blood tests, may help the doctor determine the appropriate course of treatment. Otherwise, an antibiotic that treats both strains is often prescribed as a precaution.

An antibiotic capsule.
An antibiotic capsule.

If you begin taking antibiotics for cellulitis and signs of improvement are not apparent within a few days, it is important to tell your doctor. Also, in the event you are experiencing a high fever or other extreme symptoms, it is possible that a more aggressive approach must be taken to rid the body of the infection. Hospitalization may be required in some cases, so that the antibiotics for cellulitis can be given through IV and your condition can be appropriately monitored for signs of improvement.

In extreme cases, antibiotics will need to be administered through an IV to treat more advanced cellulitis infections.
In extreme cases, antibiotics will need to be administered through an IV to treat more advanced cellulitis infections.

Doctors generally recommend that you take all of the medication prescribed to you, even when symptoms start to improve. A common mistake patients make is prematurely discontinuing the antibiotics because of the belief that the condition has been cured when the rash starts to get better, or even disappears. Consequently, the infection returns, and sometimes, it becomes more severe.

Prompt therapy with antibiotics for cellulitis is important to thwart the progression of the infection. If the condition is left untreated, serious complications can occur. Sepsis, an infection that travels through the blood stream, is one such illness that can quickly create a life-threatening situation for the patient.

Another dangerous complication of cellulitis, while not very common, is the flesh-eating disease called necrotizing fasciitis. This deep-layer infection creates an emergency situation for the patient, as the bacteria quickly eat away at the tissue. Not only has necrotizing fasciitis led to amputations, it becomes deadly if it reaches tissues that surround the organs.

Wound cellulitis may occur if an individual is bitten by a brown recluse spider.
Wound cellulitis may occur if an individual is bitten by a brown recluse spider.

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Discussion Comments


@turkay1-- Don't waste time or you might need IV antibiotics.

I had to spend Christmas in the hospital on IV antibiotics last year because of breast cellulitis. It was so scary. If I had gotten treatment for my cellulitis earlier, I would have recovered with oral antibiotics.


@turkay1-- Can you call your doctor to double check?

It's true that cellulitis infections need to be taken seriously. It can cause a lot of damage if the infection is not treated in time. So if you absolutely cannot see a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment, it's better to take some kind of antibiotic rather than doing nothing.

I urge you to see a doctor if you can because if you take the wrong antibiotic or the wrong dose, the infection may spread. Untreated cellulitis can cause tissue death and you may need surgery as a result. Your skin can become deformed and you may have permanent scars, discoloration,etc.

So see a doctor and let the doctor prescribe you an antibiotic.


I have symptoms of cellulitis. An area on my leg is red and tender. I fell off my bike last week and scraped my leg. I thought that I had taken care of it, but clearly it wasn't enough. I have a course of ciprofloxacin at home, which is a wide spectrum antibiotic for infections. Should I go ahead and take it?

I know that cellulitis can be serious so I want to treat it right away.

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