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Orbital cellulitis is an infection within the eye socket that is caused by certain types of bacteria. The condition is considered a medical emergency because it can lead to permanent vision problems and blindness. The goal of treatment is to quickly treat the affected area and reduce the risk for complications, such as an abscess. Specific options include antibiotics and surgery.

What Is Orbital Cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a skin infection characterized by swelling, redness, warmth, and pain. Orbital cellulitis, which is one type of cellulitis, is an infection that occurs within the eye socket. When it occurs, it is considered a medical emergency.

What Causes It?

Orbital cellulitis is caused by various types of bacteria. The most common bacteria that cause infection in adults are Streptococcus and Staphylococcus.
Prior to the Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) vaccine, the most common cause of orbital cellulitis in children was Haemophilus influenzae type B. Now, however, there is no single type of bacterium that is associated with this infection in children.

Risk Factors for Orbital Cellulitis

Cellulitis research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop orbital cellulitis. Risk factors for the condition include:
  • Eye trauma
  • Infection of the teeth, middle ear, or face
  • Infected sinus mucocele, which is mucus within a blocked sinus
  • Sinusitis -- up to 3 percent of sinusitis cases will develop into orbital cellulitis, and 70 percent of people with orbital cellulitis have sinusitis.
While these risk factors are not direct causes of orbital cellulitis, they can increase a person's chance of developing it.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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