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#03-07 Gleneagles Medical Centre
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Skin Abscess

What is a Skin Abscess?

A skin abscess is a painful collection of pus caused by a bacterial infection.

This article discuss about skin abscess:

  • skin abscesses – which can develop anywhere on the body and occur when a bacterial infection causes pus to collect in the skin

A skin abscess is often painful and appears as a swollen, pus-filled lump under the surface of the skin, or an open break in the skin.

Skin Abscess

If you have a skin abscess, you may have the following symptoms:

  • a smooth swelling under your skin that can feel hard or firm
  • tenderness in the affected area
  • pain, warmth and redness (erythema) in the affected area
  • an open wound or closed sore
  • pus in the affected area that appears white or yellow

What causes an abscess?

Most abscesses are caused by a bacterial infection.

When bacteria enter your body, your immune system sends infection-fighting white blood cells to the affected area. As the white blood cells attack the bacteria, some nearby tissue dies. A hollow then develops and fills with pus to form an abscess.

Most skin abscesses are caused by an infection in the root of a hair or by a blocked sweat gland. They usually affect people who are otherwise well.

It may be possible to help prevent a skin abscess through good hygiene, a healthy lifestyle and looking after your skin.

Diagnosing an abscess

If you have a skin abscess, your doctor will examine the affected area. He or she may also ask how long you have had the abscess, whether you had an injury in that area and whether you have any other symptoms.

A sample of pus may be taken from your abscess and sent to a laboratory for a gram stain test.

This allows the scientists to see the colour and shape of the bacteria causing the infection then grow the bacteria in the lab (culture). Finally, the bacteria is tested against different antibiotics to see which work best at killing it (sensitivity tests).

Treating an abscess

Some large abscesses may need to be treated with antibiotics to clear the infection and surgery to drain the pus. Without treatment, an abscess may continue to get larger and more painful.

In some cases, antibiotics alone will not be enough to clear a skin abscess and the pus will need to be drained to clear the infection. If a skin abscess is not drained, it may continue to grow and fill with pus until it bursts, which can be very painful.

If an abscess is allowed to burst and drain of pus on its own, there is also a risk that it will not drain properly, causing the abscess to return or the infection to spread.

Incision and drainage

If your skin abscess needs draining, you will probably have a small operation carried out under anaesthetic. The type of anaesthetic used will depend on the size and severity of your skin abscess. However, it is likely you will have a local anaesthetic, where you remain awake and the area around the abscess is numbed.

During the procedure, your surgeon will make a cut in the abscess to allow all of the pus to drain out. They may also take a sample of pus for testing to confirm which bacteria caused the infection. Once all of the pus has been removed, the surgeon will clean the hole that is left by the abscess using a saline (salt) solution.