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What is an abscess?

An abscess is a painful collection of pus that is caused by a bacterial infection.

Abscesses may be found in any area of the body, but most abscesses presenting for urgent attention are found on the extremities, buttocks, breast, perianal area (the area around the anus), or from a hair follicle.


What does an abscess look and feel like?

An abscess often appears as a swollen, pus-filled lump under the surface of the skin, or it may look more like an open break in the skin.

Abscesses are often red and painful. A boil is a common example of an abscess.


Who is affected by abscesses?

Anyone can develop an abscess, and they can occur almost anywhere in the body.

In most cases, abscesses affect people who are otherwise well. They are caused by an infection in the root of a hair, or by a blocked sweat gland. Abscesses are more common among people who have diabetes.

What are the signs and symptoms of an abscess?

The signs and symptoms of an abscess depend on whereabouts it develops in your body.

If you have an abscess, you may have symptoms such as:

• a smooth swelling under your skin, or an open wound, or sore

• pus in the affected area that appears white, yellow, or green, and may smell unpleasant

• pain, warmth, and redness in the affected area

• feeling generally unwell (fever, chills, and aches and pains)

Abscesses can appear anywhere on your body.


What causes abscesses?

Bacteria can cause a skin abscess when it is able to get under the surface of your skin. This may occur if you have a minor skin wound, such as a small cut, or graze, or if an oil (sebaceous), or sweat gland in your skin becomes blocked.


How are abscesses treated?

Abscesses can be treated with antibiotics and either a drainage procedure, or surgery, to remove the pus.

The treatment that you receive for an abscess will depend on the type of abscess that you have and how large it is.

If you have an abscess, it is likely that Benchmark Urgent & Family Care will prescribe antibiotics to help clear the infection.

If your abscess is small, antibiotics may be the only treatment that you need to kill the bacteria so that the abscess can heal.

However, in most cases, antibiotics alone will not be enough to clear a skin abscess. It is usually necessary to drain the pus from an abscess in order to clear the infection.

If an abscess is not drained, it may continue to become larger and fill with pus until it bursts, which can be very painful.

If an abscess is allowed to burst and drain of pus on its own, there is also a risk that it will not drain properly, causing the abscess to come back or the infection to spread.


What surgery would be performed if you have an abscess?

If you need to have your abscess drained, it is likely that you will have a small operation under an aesthetic.

The anesthetic that is used will depend on the size and severity of your abscess. You may have a local anesthetic (you will be awake, but the area of the abscess will be numb). Your clinician will make an incision (cut) in the abscess to allow all of the pus to drain out.

They may also take a sample of pus for testing in order to confirm which bacteria caused the infection.

Once all of the pus has been drained, your clinician will clean the hole that is left by the abscess using saline (salt solution) or antiseptic. Your abscess will be left open so that any more pus that is produced can be drained away. If your abscess is deep, you may need to have an antiseptic dressing placed inside it to keep it open.

Once the procedure is complete, the wound should heal in two-three weeks. It may leave a small scar.