Cellulitis refers to an inflammation or an infection of cellular or soft tissues around the face and eyes. When the tissues around the eyes are involved, the eyelids can become very red and swollen. Cellulitis of this extent is usually due to trauma or to infections of adjacent structures such as sinusitis, or an upper respiratory tract infection.
When cellulitis is limited to the tissues around the eye, it is called periorbital cellulitis and is generally treated by cultures and oral antibiotics. Improvement may be aided by the use of hot compresses and may require drainage of fluid or pus accumulations under the skin. It is also possible for cellulitis to extend to deeper tissues.
When cellulitis extends to the deeper tissues that surround the eye, it is called orbital cellulitis and is much more serious. In this case, the eyelids are involved in addition to the infection, affecting the appearance and function of the eye itself. Diagnosis of orbital cellulitis requires rapid treatment, usually by intravenous antibiotics in the hospital. Cultures will be utilized to help identify the involved bacteria in advanced cases. Specialized x-ray testing will also be used to check the full extent of involvement. While this is a serious infection, the use of modern antibiotics and time will most usually restore normal function to the affected tissues.