An abscess is an infection in which pus and dead cells form a pocket deep under your skin, causing tenderness, redness, and swelling.
Unlike other types of infection, an abscess cannot be cured by antibiotics. It must be opened and drained in a sterile setting. Some abscesses rupture and drain by themselves, but generally they must be opened by a doctor. This procedure is called abscess incision and drainage (I&D).
An abscess is a tender mass surrounded by a pink or red area on the skin. It may be warm to the touch, and can be very painful. As some abscesses progress, they come to a head so you can see an area of yellow or white pus.
If the infection spreads into deeper tissue, you might develop a fever and begin to feel ill. You may be able to feel swollen lymph glands in your neck, armpit, or groin near the abscess.
Abscesses can occur anywhere on your body, but they are common in areas exposed to bacteria, such as your armpits, around your anus and vagina, and in your groin. An inflamed hair follicle or blocked sweat gland can cause an abscess. A puncture wound sometimes introduces bacteria deep under the skin, and then heals over, trapping the infection.
People with weakened immune systems or circulatory disorders get certain types of abscesses more often.
Most abscesses will continue to get worse without care. The infection can spread to the tissues under the skin and even into the bloodstream. Treatment most often involves having a doctor cut the abscess open and drain it.
Once the abscess has been cleaned by a doctor, the infection usually clears up.
If the abscess is small (less than 1/2 inch across) you may be able to bring it to a head naturally by applying warm, moist compresses several times a day.
Do not squeeze an abscess to try to open it. You could force bacteria further into the tissue.
Do not stick a needle in an abscess because you might nick a blood vessel and cause bacteria to enter the blood stream.
Seek medical treatment for an abscess immediately if:
If you are uncertain whether you have an abscess, come in and see us. Delaying treatment could result in a more serious infection, or cause unsightly scarring.
DISCLAIMER: The information on this page is not intended to replace the advice of a physician. It is information that is generally available. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you believe you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 911.