What is a Skin Abscess?

Skin abscess is a condition, in which pus gets collected in a specified area on the skin. Most skin abscesses occur due to common causes and can be managed well with treatment. Skin abscess is mainly believed to be the result of an infection and the causes of skin abscess can vary. Proper treatment, wound care and prevention of infection is important in management of skin abscess. Skin abscess can affect people of any age, gender and symptoms of skin abscess need to be understood well.

Skin abscess can occur in various forms and can be noted in various places on the body. Some areas, which are commonly affected include face, neck, armpits, genitals, thighs, hands and areas, which present in the skin folds or those which are exposed to wounds and bacterial infection. Mainly the skin surface is involved and skin abscesses can also occur in deeper layers of the skin, when they are commonly termed as boils.

What is a Skin Abscess?

Knowing the causes and symptoms of skin abscess can help to identify the condition at the earliest and seek appropriate medical treatment.

Causes of Skin Abscess

Skin abscess is mainly caused due to an inflammation in the skin surface, which has resulted from various causes. Some of the common causes of skin abscess include

Inflammation – Common Cause of Skin Abscess

Inflammatory reaction is a common cause of skin abscess. This can result from a hair follicle, foreign body, irritation to sensitive skin or any other cause that sets an inflammatory reaction. An injury to an area over the skin, a minor cut too can cause skin abscess, if it gets infected and pus collects in it. Skin abscess due to inflammation gives a red appearance to the skin, the area is often inflamed, looks swollen, painful and the pus filled area is very sensitive.

Skin Abscess Can Be Caused Due To Infection

Skin abscess is often caused by infection, which has resulted from an infected skin wound, bacterial infection of the skin or due to infection of a hair follicle. Staphylococcal infections of the skin are the commonest to cause skin abscess. Sometimes other microorganisms like virus, fungi, etc. too can cause skin infection causing skin abscess. Infection due to blockage of sweat glands is also a common cause of skin abscess. This can be noted in anyone and young adults commonly experience skin abscess.

Infection or presence of foreign body usually results in activation of body’s immune system and the fighter cells, which reach the skin surface, producing an inflammatory reaction. This makes the area warm, red and painful. As there is development of pus, due to accumulation of dead tissue to be removed, a small defined area is developed, where the pus can get collected. A pus filled eruption seen on the skin surface in skin abscess is a result of such an inflammatory reaction or infection, affecting the skin.

Some risk factors of skin abscess have also been identified, which can make a person more prone to skin abscesses. In general,

  • People with an increased risk of infections like those with a weak immune system, due to an immune system disorder, those who are taking medications or treatment that suppress the immune system or those suffering from serious infections like HIV/AIDS, can be at an increased risk of infections causing skin abscess.
  • People having a pathological condition of internal abscess, respiratory or gastrointestinal problems that can lead to abscess can also be at risk of developing skin abscesses.
  • People with a history of autoimmune disorders like Crohn’s disease, etc., connective tissue disorders like lupus or disorders that affect the skin and subcutaneous tissue can have a greater risk of developing skin abscess.
  • Those who have suffered from skin infection in the past, particularly boils and other skin abscesses, may have the bacterial infection or staphylococcal infection present inside, which can show up when the conditions are favorable. This increases the risk of skin abscess.
  • People having high blood sugar levels and particularly uncontrolled diabetes can have greater risk of skin infections and skin abscess.
  • While it is not clear, sometimes, hormonal changes are believed to play a role in making the skin more sensitive to infections. People can be at increased risk of skin abscess, boils, etc., particularly in relation to their menstrual cycle in women and puberty.
  • Some people may also have a sensitive skin and may be more susceptible to skin irritation, infection and skin abscess with the use of artificial cosmetics, chemicals or harsh soaps, oils and body lotions.
  • People who have injured the skin, ranging from minor cuts to large non-healing wounds, burns or severe trauma can increase the risk of skin infections and skin abscess.

Symptoms of Skin Abscess

Skin abscess can present itself in different forms in different people. Some common symptoms of skin abscess include formation of a boil like eruption, which is filled with pus. The area may appear red, swollen with a yellowish center and pus filled inside can also be noticed. Itching around the skin eruption is also a common symptom of skin abscess.

Furuncles or boils causing skin abscess can be small, tender, elevated, red areas, which are itchy and painful. These can be commonly found around a hair follicle and is usually believed to be an infection of hair follicle causing skin abscess. Sometimes, these can be present as multiple boils in nearby areas, which have similar appearance and symptoms of skin abscess.

The skin lesion or skin abscess can appear as a raised, erupted area, filled with yellow fluid and may be usually covered with a thin covering in case of closed skin abscess. Skin abscess caused due to minor cuts or injuries may appear open but red, inflamed and swollen area. Along with the swelling, pain is another symptom of skin abscess. The area may also be warm to touch and very sensitive too. The pain and swelling of a skin abscess is very sensitive to pressure and can cause painful movements when skin abscess is present over the skin of the hands or legs.

The skin tissue around the boil or skin abscess may be hardened or as it heals the tissues becomes thick. Sometimes, the skin abscess may burst open and pus or the yellowish fluid inside, may get drained out.

Fever and chills may be a commonly associated symptom with skin abscess. Such associated symptoms may depend on the severity of the skin abscess and the degree of infection involved. Sometimes, skin abscess can spread its infection to the nearby lymph nodes, which leads to accumulation of fluid and swelling of lymph nodes. Enlargement of lymph nodes is also a symptom of skin abscess.

In some cases, skin abscess may not heal on its own and often needs proper treatment, which can be planned after proper diagnosis.

Diagnosis of Skin Abscess

Skin abscess can be diagnosed by clinical examination and evaluating the skin lesion carefully. Proper history can help to reveal any relation to other underlying medical conditions, skin infections or recurrence of similar skin abscesses. Any cut, wound or burn on the skin surface may be evaluated in consideration with the possibility of skin abscess.

Blood tests may be ordered to detect the presence of infection and to rule out other infections or medical conditions, connective tissue or autoimmune disorders that can affect the skin in the form of skin abscess. Checking blood sugar levels and to assess control over existing diabetes is required to help management of skin abscess. Repeated cases of skin abscess may be evaluated accordingly, to be able to plan appropriate treatment.

Drainage of pus is often done as a part of diagnostic and therapeutic plan of treatment for skin abscess. The drained fluid or pus is sent for laboratory testing and culture analysis. This test can help to detect the presence of infection, the causative organism and any other abnormality causing skin abscess.

Treatment of Skin Abscess

Skin abscess often needs treatment to ensure cure from skin abscess or underlying persistent staphylococcal infection, which can keep repeating the skin abscesses. The most common treatment options for skin abscess include

Antibiotics – Medications like antibiotics are often advised to clear off the infection. Some cases may be resistant to certain strains of bacteria, in which case other antibiotics may have to be given. Antibiotic creams may also be given for skin abscesses in certain areas.

Other medications may be given depending on the laboratory test results. In some cases, medications may be given to control pain and itching in skin abscess. High fever may be managed with fever medicines and anti-inflammatories.

Drainage of Pus – Draining the pus is a widely accepted treatment of skin abscess, which can not only help to cure the abscess but also prevent it from recurring. Drainage of pus to treat skin abscess is often done under local anesthesia in the doctor’s clinic, with the necessary aseptic precautions. The drained pus is sent for laboratory analysis to aid in further treatment plan of the skin abscess, to confirm infection and to detect any other abnormalities. The drained area is cleaned with saline solution and sterile conditions are maintained. The skin wound is treated with antiseptic medicines, as appropriate and is covered with dressing, to allow further drainage of remaining pus.

Cases that seem to worsen, excessive reddening of the skin, larger skin lesions, persistent high fever and development of newer symptoms in skin abscess may need immediate medical help. If the skin abscess is near other body openings like anus, vagina or other areas, it is important to take medical advice and follow treatment of skin abscess.

While most of the cases of skin abscess respond well to timely treatment, some skin abscess can result in certain complications too. Some complications of skin abscess include spread to infection to deeper tissues or nearby areas, deeper wounds that do not heal and gangrene or death of tissue in some cases.

Prevention of Skin Abscess

Educating people about protecting the skin and preventing skin abscess is important. People with a sensitive, dry skin may be advised moisturizers. Cases of recurrent infections and skin abscesses may be advised to maintain good hygiene with use of anti-biotic soap. Good hand washing methods are important to prevent recurrent skin infections and skin abscesses.

It is advisable to avoid pressing and draining the pus, as there is risk of damaging the deeper tissues and spread of infection. Keeping the wound clean and away from accumulation of water or dirt is essential. Inserting pointed objects or using aseptic ways of cleaning must be avoided. Seeking medical treatment can help to treat skin abscesses effectively.

Any minor cuts or wounds to the skin must be cleaned properly and an antiseptic medicine can be applied; seeking medical advice for skin lesions or injuries is the best option to prevent skin abscess.

Home Remedies for Skin Abscess

Home Remedies for Skin Abscess

Skin abscess can be treated with home remedies, which may be helpful in many cases. However, it is better to take medical opinion at the earliest.

Some home remedies for skin abscess usually include

  • Warm Compresses – Some cases of skin abscesses respond very well to a simple home remedy of warm compress. It is important to use a clean washcloth to keep warm compresses over the skin abscess to prevent risk of further infection. The cloth can be dipped in warm salt water and can be placed on the skin abscess to obtain relief from pain and swelling.
  • Turmeric – Turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory, anti-infective and healing properties making it a useful home remedy for skin abscess. Turmeric powder can be mixed in water or milk to make a thick paste and applied over and around the boil or skin abscess. Applying turmeric to the skin abscess can help to reduce inflammation, swelling, pain, redness and promote healing of the abscess. Consuming warm milk mixed with turmeric too can help to fight infection and promote healing.
  • Onion – Some skin abscesses may find relief from placing onion rings on and around the boil or eruptions and can be covered with a clean cloth. Onion is also known to have anti-inflammatory properties, which can relieve inflammation and swelling in skin abscess making it a very effective home remedy. It helps by improving circulation in the area of the skin lesion and can also help the abscess to burst and drain the pus, thus curing the skin abscess.
  • Neem or Indian Lilac – Boiling neem leaves in water and using them to apply over the boils can help. Placing neem leaves around the area of skin abscess or skin infection can also help in healing and relieve itching and pain.
  • Parsley – Parsley leaves are believed to help in treating skin abscess and relieving skin infection. Parsley leaves can be boiled in water and the leaves can be wrapped in a clean cloth to place as a bandage over the skin abscess.
  • Milk – Milk is a very good home remedy to help relieve inflammation. Consuming warm milk can help in relieving pain and itching of the skin abscess. Milk or milk cream can also be applied over the skin abscess to soothe the area and reduce inflammation.

These home remedies are a just a few, while there are many more remedies that can be useful in treating skin abscess, it is important to seek medical opinion as appropriate. Another important remedy is to maintain an ideal weight, reduce body fat as it can increase the risk of skin abscess. Keeping the skin surfaces clean, having a clean bath with warm water and keeping skin free from sweat can help to prevent skin abscesses.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Last Modified On: October 24, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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