This is what periorbital—or preseptal—cellulitis really looks like.

You may have heard of cellulitis, a dangerous skin infection, that, if not treated properly, can be fatal. Well, it gets worse: You can actually contract periorbital (also called preseptal) cellulitis in your eye.

Just like other forms of cellulitis, the periorbital variety (which is more common in kids for unclear reasons) comes from a bacterial skin infection. But in this case, the infection starts around the eye area, often from a cut or a bug bite, David Epley, MD, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, tells Health.

In some cases, the infection can spread from the sinuses, making people who suffer from sinus conditions more prone to periorbital cellulitis, Dr. Epley says. People who have been colonized with the dangerous skin infection methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are also more susceptible to periorbital cellulitis.

What does periorbital cellulitis look like?

Credit: Wikicommons

Symptoms of the infection include redness around the eye or in the white part of the eye and swelling of the eyelid, whites of the eyes, and areas surrounding the eye.

The infection often doesn’t cause pain or affect vision, Dr. Epley says. “But it’s visually apparent that there’s an infection,” he says. “And it doesn’t really get to a point [where it progresses] because people get treated for it.”

The tricky part of this infection is periorbital cellulitis might look like the more dangerous orbital cellulitis, an infection that actually gets into the eye structure, Dr. Epley explains. If left untreated, orbital cellulitis can lead to blindness and even death.

How is periorbital cellulitis treated?

The good news is periorbital cellulitis is easily treatable with oral antibiotics. If antibiotics don’t clear up the infection within a day or two, doctors will order a CT scan to determine if it’s actually orbital cellulitis, Dr. Epley says.

Orbital cellulitis is treated with IV antibiotics, and in more serious cases, surgery.

The Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine can protect against some strains of bacteria that can cause periorbital cellulitis, Dr. Epley says. The vaccine prevents Hib disease, which was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in kids under 5 before the vaccine was available, according to the CDC. It’s now regularly given as part of routine childhood vaccination.

You can also protect yourself from cellulitis of any kind by keeping your fingernails and toenails clean; cleaning any cuts, wounds, or bug bites to avoid infection (yes, even around your eyes); and moisturizing skin to prevent cracks and cuts.