Signs of a skin infection (cellulitis) from a cut or scrape

Skin infection after a scrape of the hand. The red streaks are a sign of the infection. Image by Dr James Heilman.
Skin infection after a scrape of the hand. The red streaks are a sign of the infection. Image by Dr James Heilman.

Our last post covered the basics about treating a minor cut or scrape.  One reason you should call your doctor after getting a cut or scrape is if you think your skin has developed an infection (aka cellulitis).  It’s normal for there to be a little redness around the cut or scrape, but here are signs to look for that can suggest that you have a skin infection.

  • Redness that spreads beyond the few millimeters around your cut or scrape
  • Redness that “streaks” in lines from your wound (aka lymphangitis)
  • A lot of pain over the area
  • Pus (a thicker whitish or yellowish discharge)
  • Swelling
  • Warmth
  • Fever or chills

The signs of infection are not immediately visible and may develop days after the initial injury.  A common mimicker of an infection around the wound is a contact allergy, most commonly from the bandaid/bandage used. In this case, the redness will be in the shape of the bandage.

Regardless, if you suspect you have a skin infection, seek medical attention. You may need a procedure to clean your wound and/or antibiotics.