SKIN ABSCESSES

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Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Skip to: Symptoms of an Abscess - Causes - Treatment

An abscess is a collection of pus found just underneath the skin, such as a boil. They are usually caused by a bacterial infection.

While they often disappear without treatment, they can sometimes become large, uncomfortable or embarrassing. Our doctors will be able to take a look at your abscess, determine how severe it is and recommend steps you can take to treat it.

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Wart on a finger
Small abscess at the corner of the mouth

Symptoms of an Abscess

Most abscesses are noticeable as a swelling that’s visibly full of white or yellow pus. If you press it, it’ll likely feel hard.

Skin abscesses can also feel painful, tender of warm, while the skin around them might become red.

As with any other infection, you might experience symptoms such as a fever, or just feel generally under the weather as your body gets to work fighting the bacteria.

What Causes Skin Abscesses?

When you get a bacterial infection, your immune system springs into action to defend your body. In some cases, this results in tissue damage. You’re left with a gap that can be filled by pus. This is an abscess.

Bacteria is most likely to get into your skin through small cuts and grazes, hair follicles and blocked sweat glands. They are most common in areas of your body where there’s hair, sweat and friction, such as your hands, feet, underarms, buttocks and genitals.

An abscess on the eyelid
Abscesses can be unsightly if left untreated.

Treatment for Abscesses

Smaller skin abscesses will likely go away on their own. If you want to help this process along, holding the abscess under a warm flannel can decrease swelling and speed up healing.

If your abscess becomes larger, softer and spongier, or it’s somewhere highly visible, like your face, neck or hands, a doctor will be able to help you.

While it can be tempting to pop an abscess yourself, you should never do this. The pus inside an abscess is full of bacteria, so trying to deal with it yourself could mean you spread the infection to other areas of your body.

Larger abscesses can often be treated with antibiotics, but sometimes they get so out of control that they need to be drained.

This is done under a local anaesthetic, which numbs the affected area so the doctor can make a small cut in your skin. They’ll also thoroughly clean and dress the wound afterwards, to prevent the spread of infection. This is very much a last resort reserved only for the most serious abscesses.

If you want to prevent abscesses from occurring, the best option is to keep your skin as clean as possible. Our doctors will be happy to talk to you about good skin hygiene, or take a look at any abscesses you have and provide you with practical next steps to treat them.

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