CHOC Children's
EYE CARE :: Eye Disorders


What are orbital cellulitis and pre-septal cellulitis?

These conditions refer to an inflammation and infection of the tissue and skin that surround the eye. They are serious infections that involve structures around the eye. Pre-septal cellulitis involves the area from the skin of the eyelid to the bony area that encloses the eye. Orbital cellulitis is an infection that involves the structures within the bony cavity of the face. Both of these conditions are serious and require immediate medical attention by your child's physician.

What causes pre-septal/orbital cellulitis?

The most common cause of these types of cellulitis is from an infection with bacteria. The following are the bacteria that are usually involved:

  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Streptococcus pyogenes
  • Haemophilus influenzae

The bacteria gets into the eye and the surrounding cavity many different ways. The two most common ways the infection gets into the eye include the following:

  • trauma
  • spread from other areas
    Most commonly, the infection begins in the sinuses. The sinuses are cavities, or air-filled pockets, that are near the nasal passage.

What are the symptoms of pre-septal cellulitis?

The following are the most common symptoms of pre-septal cellulitis. Symptoms may appear abruptly and may include:

  • swelling of the upper and lower eyelid
  • redness of the upper and lower eyelid
  • warmth of skin
  • pain
  • fever

The eyeball is often not affected and appears normal. There should not be any pain with eye movement.

What are the symptoms of orbital cellulitis?

The following are the most common symptoms of orbital cellulitis. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms appear slowly and may include:

  • swelling of the upper and lower eyelid
  • orbit becomes swollen and bulges
  • eye may appear red
  • decrease in the child's ability to move the eyeball and pain with eye movement
  • vision may be decreased
  • fever

How are pre-septal/orbital cellulitis diagnosed?

Diagnosis is usually based on a complete medical history and physical examination of your child. In addition, your child's physician may order the following tests to help confirm the diagnosis:

  • blood tests
  • computed tomography scan (Also called a CT or CAT scan.) - a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays. The extent of the infection is better delineated by performing a CT scan.
  • cultures of the drainage from the eyes

Treatment of pre-septal cellulitis:

Treatment will usually include intravenous or oral antibiotics. Close follow up with your child's physician is necessary for constant monitoring.

Treatment of orbital cellulitis:

Orbital cellulitis is a serious condition and must be treated promptly. Treatment may include:

  • consultation with an ophthalmologist (eye care specialist)
  • hospitalization
    Your child may be admitted to the hospital for antibiotics through an intravenous (IV) catheter. Hospitalization also allows for close evaluation of your child and the condition.
  • surgery
    Surgical drainage of the sinuses or any abscesses of the eye is sometimes needed.

What are possible complications from pre-septal/orbital cellulitis?

The risk of complications may be reduced with prompt and accurate treatment of the problem. The following are some of the more common complications that may occur:

  • meningitis (an infection of the outside of the brain and the spinal cord)
  • loss of vision
  • brain abscess (with the possibility of permanent neurological deficits)

Click here to view the
Online Resources of Eye Care


It is important to remember the health information found on this website is for reference only not intended to replace the advice and guidance of your healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.

© Children's Hospital of Orange County