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Cellulitis of Eyelid (Periorbital Cellulitis)

What is cellulitis of the eyelid?

Cellulitis of the eyelid, also known as periorbital or preseptal cellulitis, is an infection of the tissues around the eye. The infection can be caused by minor trauma to the area around your eye, such as an insect bite. It can also occur as a result of another infection, such as sinusitis.

Cellulitis of the eyelid causes redness and painful swelling of your eyelid and the skin surrounding your eyes. The condition occurs much more often in children than in adults.

Cellulitis of the eyelid typically improves when it’s treated early. The infection can usually be effectively treated with antibiotics and close follow-up. However, it can become more problematic if it goes untreated.

For example, it may lead to a serious condition if the infection spreads to your eye socket. An infection of your eye socket, called orbital cellulitis, can cause permanent vision problems or total blindness. It’s important to treat cellulitis of the eyelid right away to prevent complications.

What are the symptoms of cellulitis of the eyelid?

The symptoms of cellulitis of the eyelid may include:

  • redness around your eyelid
  • swelling of your eyelid
  • swelling of the skin around your eye

This condition usually doesn’t cause vision problems or any pain in the eye.

What causes cellulitis of the eyelid?

Cellulitis of the eyelid is caused by a bacterial infection. The infection might develop after a skin injury, such as a scratch or an insect bite around your eye. These minor injuries allow bacteria to enter the wound and cause an infection. The bacteria might also spread to your eye as a result of a sinus infection or another upper respiratory infection. They can also lead to impetigo, which is a highly contagious skin infection that causes minor blisters and crusting.

The bacteria that most commonly cause this condition are:

  • Haemophilus influenzae
  • Staphylococcus
  • Streptococcus

Children are much more likely to become infected with these bacteria than adults. This is why cellulitis of the eyelid most commonly affects children.

How is cellulitis of the eyelid diagnosed?

Your doctor can probably diagnose cellulitis of the eyelid by simply performing a physical exam and asking you about your medical history. You doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms, look at the location of the inflammation, and examine your eye for signs of infection. They’ll also ask you if you’ve recently had a minor eye injury or another type of infection, such as sinusitis.

If you’re experiencing any eye pain or vision problems, your doctor may order blood tests and take blood samples. An infection in your eye can cause serious complications. Your doctor may also use a CT or MRI scan to get clear, detailed images of the structure of your eye. These images allow your doctor to see the source of inflammation and to make sure the infection hasn’t spread into the eye itself.

What are the complications of cellulitis of the eyelid?

In some cases, the infection may spread to your eye socket or eye itself. This can lead to a serious condition called orbital cellulitis. Orbital cellulitis may cause eye pain, vision problems, and even blindness. People who are diagnosed with orbital cellulitis will need to receive care in a hospital.

How is cellulitis of the eyelid treated?

Older children and adults can be treated with oral antibiotics, including amoxicillin and dicloxacillin. It’s important to take the complete round of medication and to follow your doctor’s instructions.

Children younger than age 4 may need to go to a hospital to receive antibiotics intravenously, which means through a vein (IV). IV antibiotics are usually given through a vein in the arm.

A warm compress can also be used at home to help reduce inflammation.

You may need to see a doctor who specializes in eye diseases if your case is severe or if orbital cellulitis develops. This type of doctor is called an ophthalmologist. They’ll treat the condition with antibiotics, which will be given through an IV. You’ll likely have to stay in the hospital during treatment, as you’ll need to be closely monitored by medical personnel to ensure the infection doesn’t get worse. Surgery may also be required to relieve any pressure that builds up in or around your eye.

What is the outlook for people with cellulitis of the eyelid?

The outlook for people with cellulitis of the eyelid is typically very good if treatment is received promptly. The condition almost always improves quickly with antibiotics.

Once you recover, you should throw away any makeup products or contact lenses that you used before the infection. These products may be contaminated with the bacteria that caused cellulitis of the eyelid.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Jacquelyn Cafasso
Medically reviewed on: May 16, 2017: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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