Healthy Living

What is an Abscess?

What is an Abscess?

Key Takeaways

  • An abscess is a soft boil with a collection of pus and debris in the center.
  • This infectious disease can spread very fast, if care is not taken.
  • Sometimes, the abscess drains on its own, but generally, it has to be opened by a doctor to totally drain out the pus and debris.

An abscess is a soft swelling or bump on the surface of the skin filled with pus surrounded by pink to reddish skin, which develops in response to a foreign body or an infection. The middle part of the abscess is filled with debris and pus, and is often warm to the touch.

Abscesses are usually painful and are most commonly found in armpits, around the anus and the vagina, the teeth, and the base of the spine. Abscesses that are found around hair follicles are referred to as boils.

Abscess is one of the very painful diseases commonly seen among the people. This infectious disease can spread very fast, if care is not taken.  Make sure that the injury remains well covered and protected from the outer viruses and bacteria, which could create complications.

Pus and debris from the middle of the abscess need to be drained as a means of treatment for these painful masses on the skin. In most cases, the pus may drain on its own, but in some cases, a doctor may be needed for an incision and for draining the abscess.

Symptoms of Abscess

Most often, people suffering from abscess notice a very painful, compressible mass that is very soft in nature which gets red and experience high temperature. The upper portion becomes thin and transparent and can show the material inside and then it can open spontaneously.

Most of the abscesses become worse and can spread the infection widely. The infection gets into the bloodstream and it gets under the skin and can damage the deeper tissues.

Causes of Abscess

The most common causes of abscess include:

  • Obstruction of oil and sweat glands
  • Inflammation of hair follicles
  • Punctures on the skin

Germs gain access into the skin and glands with these changes, which lead to inflammation. The middle part of the affected area gets filled with dead cells, bacteria and debris, which gradually grows in size. Inflammation of the surrounding area increases, leading to pain. Abscesses are common in people with a weak immune system.

Abscesses are mainly caused by obstruction of oil which is formed due to the glands or sweat glands, also inflammation of hair follicles and due to the minor breaks and punctures of the skin. Germs get under the skin or the germs get into the glands and it can cause inflammatory responses to the body which tries killing the germs.

The middle of the abscess liquefies and contains dead cells, bacteria, and other debris and begins to grow slowly, and creates tension under the skin and inflammation of the tissue around takes place. 

Factors That Could Cause Abscess

Most of the people having weakened immune systems get certain abscesses more than often. Those who are facing the following risks can suffer from more severe abscesses, which decreases the ability of the people to fight the infections. 

Some of the factors that increase your risk of developing an abscess include:

Lack of hygiene, exposure to unclean environments, exposure to persons with certain types of skin infections and poor blood circulation may also increase the chances of getting abscesses. Abscesses gradually grow in size so that one can see the contents inside. At this point, it may rupture on its own allowing drainage of the pus.

Abscesses may spread from one region to another, if care is not taken. As the infection spreads, fever and illnesses may be seen as symptoms.

Abscess Treatment: Self-Care Treatment

  • When the abscess is small which is less than 1 cm or less than half an inch across, then by applying warm compresses to the area for about 30 minutes, 4 times daily may help.
  • Do not attempt to drain the abscess by squeezing or pressing on it. This can push the infected material into the deeper tissues.
  • Do not stick a needle or other sharp instrument into the abscess center, because you may injure an underlying blood vessel or cause the infection to spread.

Meet your doctor especially if the abscess grows in size and becomes more painful and you also experience a high fever. The doctor may open and drain the abscess by numbing the area around the abscess with medication, particularly if the abscess is large. Normal pain medications are often recommended to reduce the pain felt after the procedure. The sores generally heal after a week or so.

The most common sites that abscesses usually show up on the body are in the armpits (axillae). These abscesses are painful and warm to touch. Also, it is found around your anus and vagina, in some cases, which are called as Bartholin gland abscess. It can also appear at the base of the spine called pilonidal abscess, around the tooth which is called as dental abscess and also in the groin. Inflammation around the hair follicles can also lead to the formation of an abscess and this is called a boil or a furuncle.

An abscess is a very tender boil, generally surrounded by a colored area from pink to deep red. Abscesses can be often easy to feel by touching it by your fingers. The middle of an abscess is normally full of pus and also debris.

Antibiotics are not effective to cure an abscess. In most of the cases, the abscess has to be kept open and drained in order to improve faster. Sometimes, the draining occurs suddenly on its own, but it is very rare. Generally, it has to be opened by a doctor in a procedure called incision and drainage(I&D), which allows it to open widely and to get drained completely.

When and How To Get Medical Help

You can call the doctor if any of the following occur with an abscess:

  • You have a sore larger than 1 cm or a half-inch across.
  • The sore continues to enlarge or becomes more painful.
  • The sore is on or near your rectal or groin area.
  • You have a fever of 101.5°F or higher.
  • You have a red streak going away from the abscess.
  • You have any of the medical conditions listed above.

Go to a hospital’s Emergency Department if any of these conditions occur with an abscess:

  • Fever of 102°F or higher, especially if you have a chronic disease or are on steroids, chemotherapy, or dialysis.
  • A red streak leading away from the sore or with tender lymph nodes (lumps) in an area anywhere between the abscess and your chest area (for example, an abscess on your leg can cause swollen lymph nodes in your groin area).
  • Any facial abscess larger than 1 cm or a half-inch across.

Exams and Tests

The doctor will discuss the patient's medical history to understand since when the abscess has been present. The doctor will test it and tried to find details of the injury. He/she will inquire about the medicines you are taking and also the test for allergies will be conducted. He/she will also check to see if you have fever.

The doctor will examine the abscess and surrounding areas. If it is near your anus, the doctor will perform a rectal exam. If an arm or leg is involved, the doctor will feel for a lymph gland either in your groin or under your arm.

Medical Treatment

The doctor will open and drain the abscess.

  • While operating, the area around the abscess is numbed with medication. Local anesthesia may help to make the procedure almost painless.
  • The sedative will be given, if the abscess is large.
  • The area is protected with an antiseptic solution with sterile towels.
  • The doctor cut opens the abscess to totally drain out the pus and debris.

 Follow-up as per doctor’s advice

  • Carefully follow the instructions given by the doctor.
  • Keep the appointment and let the doctor treat it.
  • In case of uncomfortable feeling or fever, report immediately.