Abscess

What is an abscess?

An abscess is an area under the skin where pus (infected fluid) collects. An abscess is often caused by bacteria. You can get an abscess anywhere on your body.

What increases my risk for getting an abscess?

  • You are bitten by an animal.

  • You get a foreign object lodged under your skin.

  • You sweat a lot.

  • You have a hair follicle that gets infected. The hair follicle is where a piece of hair meets your skin.

  • You have health problems, such as diabetes or obesity.

  • You inject drugs. This can include legal drugs, such as insulin. It also can include illegal drugs, such as heroin.

What are the signs and symptoms of an abscess?

You may have an abscess if you have a swollen mass that is red and painful. It may change in shape or size and become hard. Pus may leak out of the mass. The pus is white or yellow and may smell bad.


How is an abscess diagnosed?

Your caregiver will examine the area. He will see how red or swollen your abscess is or check to see if it is draining. You may need the following test:

  • Needle aspiration: A needle will be used to take the fluid out of the abscess. The fluid is sent to a lab for tests. These tests may show what is causing your abscess.

How is an abscess treated?

Treatment may help your abscess heal faster. It also may decrease your pain and the chance of the abscess coming back. Your caregiver may suggest the following:

  • Warm soaks: Soak your abscess in warm, clean water. Do this as often as your caregiver suggests. You also may apply a moist cloth to the abscess. This will help the abscess heal. If the abscess needs to be drained, warm soaks can help get it ready.

  • Pain medicine: You may be given medicine to take away or decrease pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before taking your medicine.

  • Antibiotics: This medicine will help fight or prevent an infection. Take your antibiotics until they are gone, even if you feel better.

What are other treatments for an abscess?

If your abscess has not drained on its own, your caregiver may want to do one of the following:

  • Incision and drainage: Your caregiver makes a cut in the abscess to allow the pus to drain. Ask your caregiver for more information.

  • Surgery: Your caregiver may want to remove your abscess completely. He may do this if the abscess is on your hands or buttocks. Surgery can decrease the chance that the abscess comes back.

What are the risks of an abscess?

  • An abscess can lead to a serious infection. The infection may be in the skin surrounding the abscess. You also may get an infection in your lymph nodes, blood, or bones. This can be life-threatening.

  • The incision and drainage procedure may be painful and cause scarring. This procedure may cause an infection in your heart called endocarditis. The risk for this is greater if you have heart disease. Abscesses may come back, even with treatment. If you do not treat your abscess, the area around it may decay. This can be very serious.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your abscess returns.

  • The area around your abscess has red streaks or is warm and painful.

  • You have back or stomach pain. You may have aches in your muscles or joints.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek immediate care or call 911 if:

  • The area around your abscess becomes very painful, red, or swollen all of a sudden.

  • You have blisters filled with blood, or your skin makes a crackling sound.

  • You have a fever or chills.

  • You have pain in your rectum or pelvis.

  • You are very sweaty, or your heart feels like it is fluttering.

  • You feel faint or confused.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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