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Cellulitis of the Eye in Children

What is cellulitis of the eye?

Cellulitis is a serious type of infection and inflammation. It can occur in various parts of the body. When it occurs in the eyelid and tissues in the front part of the eye area, it’s called pre-septal cellulitis. When it occurs behind and around the eye in the eye socket (orbit), it’s called orbital cellulitis. Both of these conditions are serious. If your child has either, he or she needs medical treatment right away.

What causes cellulitis of the eye?

The most common cause of cellulitis of the eye is an infection with bacteria. The most common bacteria that cause them include:

  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Streptococcus pyogenes
  • Haemophilus influenzae

The bacteria can get into the eye area in many different ways. The two most common ways are:                                                                                                                                                                 

  • Injury. An injury to the eye can lead to infection from the bacteria.
  • Infection near the eyes. Most often, the infection begins in the sinuses. The sinuses are air-filled areas formed by the bones of the face. There are sinuses above and below the eye area.

Who is at risk for cellulitis of the eye?

A child is more at risk of cellulitis of the eye if he or she has had either of these:

  • An injury to the eye area
  • A sinus infection

What are the symptoms of cellulitis of the eye?

Symptoms of cellulitis of the eye can occur a bit differently in each child.

The symptoms of pre-septal cellulitis can include:

  • Swelling of the upper and lower eyelid
  • Redness of the upper and lower eyelid
  • Warmth of the skin in the eye area
  • Pain in the eye area
  • Fever

The eyeball is often not affected and will look normal.

The symptoms of orbital cellulitis can include:

  • Swelling of the upper and lower eyelid
  • Tissues in the orbit that are swollen and bulge
  • Eyeball that looks red
  • Trouble moving the eyeball
  • Decrease in vision
  • Fever

The symptoms of cellulitis of the eye can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is cellulitis of the eye diagnosed?

The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she may also ask about your family’s health history. He or she will give your child a physical exam. Your child may also have tests, such as:

  • Blood tests. These are done to check for signs of infection.
  • X-ray. This test uses a small amount of radiation to make images of tissues inside the body.
  • CT scan. This test uses a series of X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of the body. A CT scan can show bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than regular X-rays. This scan can show how much of the eye area is infected.
  • MRI. This test uses a large magnets and a computer to make detailed images of tissues in the body. This scan can also help show how much of the eye area is infected.

How is cellulitis of the eye treated?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. The two conditions may be treated differently.

Treatment for pre-septal cellulitis is most often done with antibiotic medicine taken by mouth. Your child will need to see the healthcare provider for follow-up care. This is to make sure the infection is going away, and not getting worse.

If your child has orbital cellulitis, he or she may need to see an eye doctor (ophthalmologist).. Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics through an IV. This is done in the hospital. The medicine is given through a catheter into a vein. Your child will need to stay in the hospital for one or more nights.
  • Surgery. This may be done to drain the sinuses or any abscesses of the eye. An abscess is a pocket of infection.                                 

What are possible complications of cellulitis of the eye?

Possible complications include:

  • Infection of the lining covering the brain and the spinal cord (meningitis)
  • Loss of vision
  • Brain abscess
  • Brain damage due to abscess

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?

Call your child’s healthcare provider if your child has symptoms of cellulitis of the eye. If your child is being treated for cellulitis of the eye, call the healthcare provider if the symptoms are getting worse, or your child has new symptoms.

Key points about cellulitis of the eye

  • Cellulitis is a serious type of infection and inflammation. When it occurs in the eyelid and tissues in the front part of the eye area, it’s called pre-septal cellulitis. When it occurs behind and around the eye in the eye socket (orbit), it’s called orbital cellulitis.
  • Both of these conditions need medical treatment right away.
  • The most common cause of cellulitis of the eye is an infection with bacteria.
  • Symptoms include swelling and redness of the upper and lower eyelid, and pain in the eye area.
  • Treatment is done with antibiotic medicine. Your child may need to spend time in the hospital. Surgery may be done to drain areas of infection.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s health care provider:
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.
Cellulitis of the Eye in Children - WellSpan Health

Online Medical Reviewer: Berry, Judith, PhD, APRN
Last Review Date: 2015-11-06T00:00:00
Last Modified Date: 2016-01-02T00:00:00
Published Date: 2016-01-02T00:00:00
Last Review Date: 2007-03-30T00:00:00
© 2016 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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