An abscess is a localised collection of pus that generally develops in response to infection. An abscess is typically painful, and it appears as a swollen area that is warm to the touch. The skin surrounding an abscess typically appears pink or red.
Abscesses can develop in many parts of the body, but they usually involve the skin surface. Common sites affected include the armpits, groin, rectal area (perirectal abscess), the external vaginal area (Bartholin abscess), and along the tailbone (pilonidal abscess).
Abscesses can also affect the brain, kidneys, liver (hepatic abscess), lungs, teeth (dental abscess), and tonsils (peritonsillar abscess).
Inflammation surrounding hair follicles can lead to the formation of abscesses. Skin abscesses are often referred to as boils.
Unlike other infections, antibiotics alone will not cure an abscess. In general, abscesses must open and drain to improve.
Abscesses are typically caused by either an inflammatory reaction to an infectious process (bacteria or parasite).
The infectious organisms or foreign material cause an inflammatory response in the body, which triggers the body’s immune system to form a cavity or capsule to contain the infection and prevent it from spreading to other parts of the body.
The interior of the abscess liquefies, and pus develops (which contains dead cells, bacteria, and other debris). This area then begins to expand creating tension and inflammation of the overlying skin.
People with weakened immune systems can develop abscesses more often because their body’s ability to fight infection is decreased.
The symptoms of an abscess vary depending on the location of the abscess, but in general individuals will experience the following: pain, pustular drainage spontaneous rupture may occur.
Most abscesses are likely to get worse without proper incision and drainage. The infection can potentially spread to the tissues, and even into the bloodstream.
If the infection spreads, fever, nausea, vomiting, increasing pain, and increasing skin redness may develop. In most cases one needs to contact a doctor if the sore is larger than 1 cm or one-half inch across.
This sore continues to enlarge and becomes more painful. The person has an underlying illness such as AIDS, cancer, diabetes, leukemia, sickle cell disease, or peripheral vascular disease.
Pus from any abscess is taken to the laboratory to trace the germ that might have caused this problem.