Episode 910: Cellulitis Recovery Timeline - The Emergency Medical Minute

Episode 910: Cellulitis Recovery Timeline

Contributor: Aaron Lessen, MD

Educational Pearls:

How fast does cellulitis recover?

  • A recent prospective cohort study took a look at this question.

  • The study included 300 adults with cellulitis (excluding those with peri-orbital cellulitis or abscesses) in two emergency departments in Queensland, Australia.

  • They collected data from initial and follow-up surveys at 3, 7, and 14 days, and compared clinician and patient assessments at day 14.

  • Improvement was fastest between day 0 and day 3, with gradual progress thereafter.

  • At day 14, many still had skin redness and swelling, though warmth had often resolved. Clinicians reported higher cure rates than patients (85.8% vs. 52.8%).

  • Conclusion:

    • Cellulitis symptoms improve quickly at first but continue to linger for many patients.

    • Patients and doctors often have different views on when cellulitis is fully cured.

How should we counsel patients?

  • Even on antibiotics, the margins of the cellulitis may continue to spread a small amount.

  • Skin warmth should be the first symptom to go away.

  • It takes time to get better. Only about 50% of patients believed their cellulitis was cured at 2 weeks.


  1. Nightingale, R. S., Etheridge, N., Sweeny, A. L., Smyth, G., Dace, W., Pellatt, R. A. F., Snelling, P. J., Yadav, K., & Keijzers, G. (2024). Cellulitis in the Emergency Department: A prospective cohort study with patient-centred follow-up. Emergency medicine Australasia : EMA, 10.1111/1742-6723.14401. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1111/1742-6723.14401

Summarized by Jeffrey Olson MS2 | Edited by Meg Joyce & Jorge Chalit, OMSIII


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