High risk and low prevalence diseases: Orbital cellulitis

Am J Emerg Med. 2023 Jun:68:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2023.02.024. Epub 2023 Feb 26.


Introduction: Orbital cellulitis is an uncommon but serious condition that carries with it a potential for significant morbidity.

Objective: This review highlights the pearls and pitfalls of orbital cellulitis, including presentation, diagnosis, and management in the emergency department (ED) based on current evidence.

Discussion: Orbital cellulitis refers to infection of the globe and surrounding soft tissues posterior to the orbital septum. Orbital cellulitis is typically caused by local spread from sinusitis but can also be caused by local trauma or dental infection. It is more common in pediatric patients compared to adults. Emergency clinicians should first assess for and manage other critical, sight-threatening complications such as orbital compartment syndrome (OCS). Following this assessment, a focused eye examination is necessary. Though orbital cellulitis is primarily a clinical diagnosis, computed tomography (CT) of the brain and orbits with and without contrast is critical for evaluation of complications such as abscess or intracranial extension. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain and orbits with and without contrast should be performed in cases of suspected orbital cellulitis in which CT is non-diagnostic. While point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) may be useful in differentiating preseptal from orbital cellulitis, it cannot exclude intracranial extension of infection. Management includes early administration of broad-spectrum antibiotics and ophthalmology consultation. The use of steroids is controversial. In cases of intracranial extension of infection (e.g., cavernous sinus thrombosis, abscess, or meningitis), neurosurgery should be consulted.

Conclusion: An understanding of orbital cellulitis can assist emergency clinicians in diagnosing and managing this sight-threatening infectious process.

Keywords: Emergency medicine; Ophthalmology; Orbital cellulitis; Periorbital infection.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abscess / drug therapy
  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cellulitis / diagnosis
  • Cellulitis / therapy
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Ophthalmology*
  • Orbit / diagnostic imaging
  • Orbital Cellulitis* / diagnostic imaging
  • Orbital Cellulitis* / etiology
  • Orbital Diseases* / diagnostic imaging
  • Orbital Diseases* / etiology
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents