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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 an abscess?

  • An animal bite
  • A foreign object lodged under your skin
  • Heavy or frequent sweating
  • A health problem, such as diabetes or obesity
  • Injecting illegal drugs

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. Pus may leak out of the mass. The pus will be white or yellow and may smell bad. You may have redness and pain days before the mass appears.

How is an abscess diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine the area. He will see how red or swollen your abscess is or check to see if it is draining. A sample of fluid from your abscess may show what is causing your infection.

How is an abscess treated?

  • If your abscess is less than ½ inch across, your healthcare provider may tell you to do the following:
    • Apply a moist warm cloth to your abscess, or soak it in warm, clean water. Apply the moist warm cloth, or soak it for 30 minutes, up to 4 times per day. Do not press on an abscess or try to open it with a needle. You may push the bacteria into deeper tissues or into your blood.
  • If your abscess is more than ½ inch across, your healthcare provider may do any of the following:
    • Incision and drainage is a procedure used to allow the pus to drain. Your healthcare provider will make a cut in the abscess so it can drain. Then gauze will be put into the wound and it will be covered with a bandage.
    • Surgery may be needed if your abscess needs to be removed completely. Your healthcare provider may do this if the abscess is on your hands or buttocks. Surgery can decrease the risk that the abscess will come back.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • The area around your abscess becomes very painful, warm, or has red streaks.
  • You have a fever of 101.5°F (38.6°C) or higher and chills.
  • You are very sweaty, or your heart feels like it is fluttering.
  • You feel faint or confused.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your abscess gets bigger.
  • Your abscess returns.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

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.

© 2015 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.