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Definition

What is abscess?

An abscess is a tender mass generally surrounded by a colored area from pink to deep red. Abscesses are often easy to feel by touching. The middle of an abscess is full of pus and debris.

Painful and warm to touch, abscesses can show up any place on your body. The most common sites are in your armpits (axillae), areas around your anus and vagina (Bartholin gland abscess), the base of your spine (pilonidal abscess), around a tooth (dental abscess), and in your groin.

How common is abscess?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of abscess?

Most often, an abscess becomes a painful, compressible mass that is red, warm to touch, and tender.

As some abscesses progress, they may “point” and come to a head so you can see the material inside and then spontaneously open (rupture).

Most will continue to get worse without care. The infection can spread to the tissues under the skin and even into the bloodstream.

If the infection spreads into deeper tissue, you may develop a fever and begin to feel ill.

It’s more difficult to identify an abscess inside the body, but signs include:

  • Painin the affected area
  • A high temperature
  • Generally feeling unwell

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

See your GP if you think you may have an abscess. They can examine a skin abscess or refer you to hospital if you may have an internal abscess.

There are several tests available to help diagnose an abscess, depending on where it’s located.

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Asore 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.
  • A fever of 101.5°F or higher.
  • A red streak going away from the abscess.

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes abscess?

Abscesses are caused by obstruction of oil (sebaceous) glands or sweat glands, inflammation of hair follicles, or minor breaks and punctures of the skin. Germs get under the skin or into these glands, which causes an inflammatory response as your body’s defenses try to kill these germs.

The middle of the abscess liquefies and contains dead cells, bacteria, and other debris. This area begins to grow, creating tension under the skin and further inflammation of the surrounding tissues. Pressure and inflammation cause the pain.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for abscess?

People with weakened immune systems get certain abscesses more often. Those with any of the following are all at risk for having more severe abscesses. This is because the body has a decreased ability to ward off infections.

  • Chronic steroid therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • AIDS
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Leukemia
  • Peripheral vascular disorders
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Severe burns
  • Severe trauma
  • Alcoholism or IV drug abuse

Other risk factors for abscess include exposure to dirty environments, exposure to persons with certain types of skin infections, poor hygiene, and poor circulation.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is abscess diagnosed?

The doctor will take a medical history and may ask you:

  • How long the abscess has been present
  • If you recall any injury to that area
  • What medicines you may be taking
  • If you have any allergies
  • If you have had a fever at home

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.

How is abscess treated?

A small skin abscess may drain naturally, or simply shrink, dry up and disappear without any treatment.

However, larger abscesses may need to be treated by a doctor.

The doctor may open and drain the abscess.

  • The area around the abscess will be numbed with medication.
    • It is often difficult to completely numb the area, but local anesthesia can make the procedure almost painless.
    • You may be given some type of sedative if the abscess is large.
  • The area will be covered with an antiseptic solution and sterile towels placed around it.
  • The doctor will cut open the abscess and totally drain it of pus and debris.
  • Once the sore has drained, the doctor will insert some packing into the remaining cavity to minimize any bleeding and keep it open for a day or two.
    • A bandage will then be placed over the packing, and you will be given instructions about home care.
    • Most people feel better immediately after the abscess is drained.
    • If you are still experiencing pain, the doctor may prescribe pain pills for home use over the next 1-2 days.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage abscess?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with abscess:

Maintain good personal hygiene by washing your skin with soap and water regularly.

  • Take care to avoid nicking yourself when shaving your underarms or pubic area.
  • Seek immediate medical attention for any puncture wounds, especially if:
    • You think there may be some debris in the wound
    • You have one of the listed medical conditions
    • You are on steroids or chemotherapy

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: October 17, 2017 | Last Modified: October 17, 2017

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