What is a skin abscess?

A skin abscess is a tender spot on the skin that is typically filled with pus, bacteria and other debris.

Skin abscesses can develop anywhere on the body but most frequently appear around the armpits, groin, anus and vagina.

A boil is a common skin abscess; it’s the result of a bacterial or fungal infection caused by an inflamed hair follicle.

Common related conditions
Staph Infection

Causes of a skin abscess

The most common cause of a skin abscesses or boil is from Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. When the bacteria enters the bloodstream (typically through a cut or scrape), it can cause an infection. When Staphylococcus aureus causes the abscess, it is called a staph infection.

Risk factors for a skin abscess

You are at higher risk of developing a skin abscess or boil if you have the following conditions:

  • Compromised immune system
  • Diabetes
  • Eczema

If you touch or are in close contact with another person who has a skin abscess or boil, you may also develop a boil.

Symptoms of a skin abscess

Symptoms of a skin abscess includes:

  • Presence of a red bump that is filled with white pus at the tip
  • Pain around the affected site
  • Fever
  • Chills

Diagnosis of a skin abscess

Your primary care doctor can diagnose a skin abscess during a routine exam.

To determine what antibiotic to prescribe, your doctor may take a culture of the pus filling the abscess.

Some bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, so knowing what is causing the infection will help the doctor prescribe the most effective antibiotic for your case.

Treatment for a skin abscess

Small to moderate size abscesses can be treated at home with warm compresses. The heat from a warm compress helps the boil heal. Continue the warm compresses even after the abscess has ruptured.

The bacteria inside the abscess is extremely contagious. Wash your hands with antibacterial soap and do not reuse any towels or clothes that have touched the bacteria.

If the skin abscess is more serious and does not heal with home therapy, it can be treated with antibiotics. In severe cases, the abscess also needs to be cut open and drained.

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