What Is an Abscess and What Causes It?

abscess

More commonly referred to as a boil, a skin abscess is typically harmless and goes away with at-home treatments. If left untreated, however, there are cases in which an abscess can lead to serious, potentially life-threatening complications.

What Is an Abscess?

Abscesses are bumps that appear within or below the skin’s surface and are usually filled with pus or translucent fluid. They may appear on any part of the body. However, the most common locations are:

  • Back
  • Face
  • Chest
  • Buttocks
  • Groin
  • Underarm

Skin abscesses are often easy to identify by touch and when visibly surrounded by a pink or dark red area. At first glance, an abscess looks like it could be a pimple. However, the longer it remains, the more it grows to more closely resemble a cyst. Depending on the abscess’s cause, some symptoms may present themselves, including:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Chills
  • Lesions
  • Inflammation
  • Fluid drainage
  • Bump that is warm to the touch


Abscess Causes

Bacteria known as Staphylococcus is the most common cause of skin abscesses. You’re at an increased risk for a staph infection if you have:

  • Close contact with an infected individual
  • A chronic skin disease
  • Diabetes
  • A weakened immune system
  • Poor hygiene habits

Staph infections can turn deadly if the germs spread to other areas of your body or enter your bloodstream, joints, bones, lungs or heart.

Abscesses may also emerge when a hair follicle is trapped and unable to break through the skin. These infected follicles (folliculitis) also occur after spending time in an inadequately chlorinated pool or hot tub.

Without proper medical attention, some abscesses cause deadly or long-lasting complications, including:

  • Spread of infection
  • Blood poisoning (sepsis)
  • Infection of the heart’s inner lining (endocarditis)
  • Development of new abscesses
  • Tissue death, such as gangrene
  • Acute bone infection (osteomyelitis)

Abscess Treatment

An abscess smaller than 1 cm may respond to at-home remedies like applying heat to the area with a warm compress. If the abscess does not respond to this treatment, medical attention may be necessary.

Antibiotics

Acute cases of skin abscesses are generally treated with antibiotics like dicloxacillin or cephalexin, especially if you have any of these symptoms:

  • An abscess on the face
  • Cellulitis
  • Multiple abscesses
  • A compromised immune system

In the case of an abscess caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), your doctor may prescribe alternative antibiotics like clindamycin or doxycycline to treat the infection.

Abscess Drainage

If at-home treatments fail to heal the abscess, your doctor may drain it by applying a numbing medication to the area and cutting the abscess open to allow the fluid to drain. Your doctor will pack the wound with surgical material to prevent the abscess from reoccurring and prescribe antibiotics to protect the wound from infection.

Once you receive proper treatment, the abscess shouldn’t return.

How to Prevent an Abscess

It’s not always possible to prevent a skin abscess from developing. However, there are a few things you can do to minimize your risk:

  • Take care to avoid accidently cutting yourself when shaving
  • Clean all cuts and scrapes with soap, water and antibacterial ointment
  • Keep your cuts and wounds bandaged
  • Regularly wash your hands
  • Avoid sharing personal items such as razors, makeup and athletic equipment

Emergency Services at Complete Care in Texas and Colorado Springs

Whether you’re experiencing an immediate emergency like appendicitis or are concerned about a stubborn abscess, Complete Care treats it all. Our emergency rooms are equipped with knowledgeable staff 24/7 so you can receive immediate treatment.

No appointments are necessary, so you can count on being accommodated without the wait times of traditional health care facilities. Find the Complete Care location nearest you by visiting us online.