Orbital cellulitis is a serious infection of the bony cavity in which the eyeball sits, which is called the orbit. It is surrounded by sinuses. The sinuses are the hollow areas of the skull around the nose.

Orbital cellulitis affects not only the eye, but the eyelids, eyebrows, and cheeks. It causes the eyeball to have a swollen appearance. If the infection is not treated, it can lead to blindness.

Eyeball in Orbit

Eye bone socket nerve
The cavity below the eye is a sinus, the most common place for the infection to start.
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.


There are several common causes of orbital cellulitis:

  • Infections that spread from areas around the eye including:
    • Sinuses (this is the most common reason)
    • Mouth and teeth
    • Face
  • Infections that spread from the bloodstream
  • Injury or surgery in the area
  • Stye]]> on the eyelid
  • Bug bite or sting to the eyelid

Children are at high risk of severe infections from orbital cellulitis that could result in blindness. For this reason, they should be given immediate medical attention. In young children, the infection is often caused by a sinus infection due to a organism called Haemophilus influenzae .


Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases the chance of getting a disease or condition. Some risk factors for orbital cellulitis include:



Symptoms of orbital cellulitis include:

  • Bulging eye
  • Painful eye movements
  • Tender or warm tissues around the eye
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Difficulty seeing when eyelid is swollen
  • Fever
  • Not feeling well
  • Headache
  • Runny nose
  • Double vision
  • Blurry vision


Doctors can often recognize orbital cellulitis by examining your eyes, teeth, and mouth. However, to determine the cause of the infection, you may be given the following tests or examinations:

  • Medical history, which includes questions about your diet, medications, use of corrective lenses, and family history of diabetes]]>
  • Complete blood count
  • ]]>Computed tomography (CT) scan]]> or ]]>MRI]]> of your sinuses and orbit
  • X-ray of your sinuses and orbit
  • Samples from the lining of your eye, nose, throat, blood may be sent to the laboratory for testing and culture
  • ]]>Spinal tap]]> in very sick children


Orbital cellulitis can worsen quickly. Often it requires hospitalization. Treatment for orbital cellulitis includes:

  • Antibiotics are given to treat the infection. They will be started immediately, even before results from the laboratory have come back. Antibiotics are generally given by mouth for three weeks. If the infection is serious, antibiotics may be given through an intravenous drip for at least several days.
  • Nasal decongestants will help sinus drainage if patient has sinusitis.
  • Diuretics or eye drops are given to help decrease pressure within the eyeball.
  • Surgery may be performed to drain a pus collection from an infected sinus or orbit.

If you are diagnosed with orbital cellulitis, follow your doctor's instructions.


Treating sinus or dental infections promptly may prevent them from spreading to the eyes. In addition, children should be protected with the Hib B vaccine, which will prevent most of the Haemophilus influenzae infections.