American Academy of Dermatology

View all recommendations from this society

Released August 19, 2015; sources updated September 20, 2016

Don’t routinely use antibiotics to treat bilateral swelling and redness of the lower leg unless there is clear evidence of infection.

Research has suggested that bilateral lower leg cellulitis is very rare. Patients with swelling and redness of both legs most likely have another condition, such as dermatitis resulting from leg swelling, varicose veins or contact allergies. To ensure appropriate treatment, doctors must consider the likelihood of diagnoses other than cellulitis when evaluating swelling and redness of the lower legs. Misdiagnosis of bilateral cellulitis can lead to overuse of antibiotics and subject patients to potentially unnecessary hospital stays.


These items are provided solely for informational purposes and are not intended as a substitute for consultation with a medical professional. Patients with any specific questions about the items on this list or their individual situation should consult their physician.

How The List Was Created

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) is strongly committed to dermatologists serving as effective stewards of limited health care resources by assisting patients in making informed health care decisions. As such, the AAD leadership created a workgroup to develop this list with specific skills and expertise in evidence based research, public health quality and payer policy. Members of this workgroup include dermatologists who are current members of the Academy’s Board of Directors, Council on Science and Research, Council on Government Affairs, Health Policy and Practice, Research Agenda Committee, Clinical Guidelines Committee, Access to Dermatology Care Committee, Patient Safety and Quality Committee, Resource-Based Relative Value Scale Committee and the Workgroup on Innovative Payment Delivery. The workgroup identified areas to be included on this list based on the greatest potential for overuse/misuse, quality improvement and availability of strong evidence based research as defined by the recommended criteria listed below. The recommended list was reviewed and approved by the AAD Council on Science and Research and the AAD Board of Directors.

  • Supported by available scientific evidence (e.g., existing AAD appropriate use criteria and/or existing AAD clinical guidelines)
  • Strongest consensus inappropriate score from the AAD Appropriate Use Criteria (AUC)
  • Strong (wording/level of evidence) recommendations from the guidelines about discouraged practice
  • Greatest potential for improvement in outcomes for patients
  • Greatest potential for overuse/misuse by physicians

AAD’s disclosure and conflict of interest policy can be found at www.aad.org.

Sources

Arakaki RY, Strazzula L, Woo E, Kroshinsky D. The impact of dermatology consultation on diagnostic accuracy and antibiotic use among patients with suspected cellulitis seen at outpatient internal medicine offices: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Dermatol. 2014 Oct;150(10):1056-61.

Hughey LC. The impact dermatologists can have on misdiagnosis of cellulitis and overuse of antibiotics: closing the gap. JAMA Dermatol. 2014 Oct;150(10):1061-2.

Salmon M. Differentiating between red legs and cellulitis and reviewing treatment options. Br J Community Nurs 2015;20:474-80.

David CV, Chira S, Eells SJ, Ladrigan M, Papier A, Miller LG, Craft N. Diagnostic accuracy in patients admitted to hospitals with cellulitis. Dermatol Online J. 2011 Mar 15;17(3):1.

Levell NJ, Wingfield CG, Garioch JJ. Severe lower limb cellulitis is best diagnosed by dermatologists and managed with shared care between primary and secondary care. Br J Dermatol. 2011 Jun;164(6):1326-8.

Kroshinsky D, Grossman ME, Fox LP. Approach to the patient with presumed cellulitis. Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2007 Sep;26(3):168-78.

Hirschmann JV, Raugi GJ. Lower limb cellulitis and its mimics: part I. Lower limb cellulitis. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2012 Aug;67(2):163.e1-12; quiz 175-6.

Hirschmann JV, Raugi GJ. Lower limb cellulitis and its mimics: part II. Conditions that simulate lower limb cellulitis. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2012 Aug;67(2):177.e1-9; quiz 185-6.