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Abscess - Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

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Abscess - Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

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When the body gets infected, the white blood cells fight against these infections, and the remnants of damaged tissue and germs form an abscess. To know more about it in detail, read the below article for more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Sugreev Singh

Published At December 23, 2021
Reviewed AtMarch 17, 2023

Introduction:

The skin surrounded by a pink to a deep red-colored mass of tissue that feels painful and warm on touching is known as an abscess. It is mostly caused by infections and could easily be felt when touched. The tissue mass could be filled with pus, bacteria, and debris. The abscess could develop on any place in the body, but the common sites are:

  • Armpits (axillae).

  • The base of the spine (pilonidal abscess).

  • In the anus and vaginal areas (Bartholin gland abscess).

  • When the hair follicle becomes inflamed, it can lead to the formation of an abscess, known as boil (furuncle).

  • Around the tooth (dental abscess).

  • Groin area.

An abscess cannot be cured only with antibiotics, so do not consider it like other infections. Normally, an abscess needs an open-up to drain the pus in order to improve, but in some cases, it drains on its own. A warm compress may help it to open up, or else an incision and drainage procedure helps to drain the abscess, which has to be done only by the doctor.

What Are the Causes of an Abscess?

When we undergo any minor trauma, small tears or cuts, or inflammation, bacteria will try to enter the skin. An abscess is formed when our body starts to fight against these foreign bodies and tries to kill the germs. In addition, when there is any obstruction in the sweat gland, hair follicle, or a pre-existing cyst, it could also lead to an abscess. The center of the abscess then liquefies and starts to grow, followed by creating tension under the skin with further inflammation on the surrounding tissues. This resulting pressure and inflammation cause pain.

Only people with weak immune systems are more prone to develop an abscess, and those with any of the following are at increased risk of developing a severe abscess. They are:

What Are the Symptoms of Abscess?

The following are the clinical manifestations of an abscess:

  • The area where the abscess is present appears to be painful, red, compressible, and warm to the touch.

  • When the abscess continues to progress, they point towards head up, so the material inside will be seen, which is spontaneous to rupture.

  • Most of the abscess will continue to get worse when it is left untreated, and it can spread to the tissues that are present under the skin, which may enter the bloodstream.

  • When the infection spreads deep into the tissues, then there are chances of feeling feverish.

How Is Abscess Diagnosed?

When you reach your doctor, he might ask about your medical history (previous and present medical history), from when you had an abscess, about the medicines you took to control the pain, or if you had any fever along with an abscess. Also, he/she might ask for the medications you are taking currently and if you are allergic to any other medications.

Then the doctor will start to examine the abscess and its surrounding areas. If the abscess is present in your anal area, the doctor will suggest a rectal examination, and in case an arm or leg is involved, lymph nodes under the arm and groin area will be felt by the doctor.

How Can Abscess Be Treated?

Based on the size of the abscess, we could decide if it needs any medical intervention or not. Go through the below-mentioned points to gain knowledge about when a medically supervised treatment is needed.

Home Remedies - Some home remedies could also help with abscesses. Let's see the Do’s and Don'ts detailed below.

Do's:

  • When the abscess is small, that is, less than 1 centimeter or less than half-inch, a hot or warm compress is applied to that area for 30 minutes daily.

Don'ts:

  • If there is an abscess, the person should not blindly prick and squeeze it because the infection can spread to deeper tissues.

  • Avoid using any needles or sharp instruments to prick the abscess center as it may injure any blood vessel present.

Medical Treatment - When the abscess is above 1 centimeter, the doctor may open and drain the pus. At first, the doctor numbs the area around the abscess with a local anesthetic. This step makes the patient feel almost painless during the procedure. Then the area is applied with antiseptic solutions, and sterile gauze is placed above it. The doctor then makes a small incision above the abscess to drain the pus and debris. Once it has drained, the doctor keeps some packing inside the open wound and allows it to be there for a day or two for the infection to completely drain. A bandage is placed above the packing, and home care instructions will be given. Most people will feel the difference immediately after the abscess is drained, but if still there is pain, painkillers will be provided for the next 1 to 2 days. Antibiotics are allowed only when prescribed by doctors.

Follow-Up - The doctor will instruct the patient on how to remove the packing carefully by themselves. The best way to do this is by soaking or flushing after 2 days. Also, make sure to attend all the follow-up appointments without fail, and it is important to report to the doctor when there is any fever, swelling, redness, or increased pain.

How Can Abscess Be Prevented?

The abscess could be prevented when people follow good personal hygiene. It is important to wash the skin with mild soap and water regularly. Also, avoid making small cuts while shaving or waxing the underarms and pubic area. When there is some debris in the wound or any tear or cut that is caused by a human bite, insect, or animal, then immediate medical attention is needed.

Conclusion:

The abscess should be taken care of and should not be left untreated. Once it is medically treated, it should start to heal, and pain should subside immediately or within a day. The wound care instructions such as wound packing, washing, bandaging, or soaking should be done for a week as instructed by the doctor. Check if the abscess has drained completely after 2 weeks and if not, reach the doctor because all sores will take only around 10 to 14 days to heal.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

How Serious Is an Abscess Infection?

Abscess, when left untreated, can become a very serious infection. Access is an infection of the skin that has the potential to spread. When it spreads to other parts, it can cause sepsis, necrotizing fascitis, and even death. The severity of the abscess is determined by its location and treatment.

2.

Can an Abscess Cure on Its Own?

The cure for an abscess depends on its location and size. A smaller abscess can resolve on its own. However, a larger abscess may need a course of antibiotics or surgical drainage for its resolution. The ultimate cure for abscess depends on the resolution of the infection. 

3.

What Is the Cure for an Abscess?

The cure for an abscess may include the following:
- Usage of antibiotics for the treatment of an abscess. 
- Surgically draining the abscess. 
- In smaller abscess, letting the infection resolve on its own. 

4.

How to Identify an Abscess?

An abscess appears raised or swollen in appearance. The surface of the abscess will be white due to pus formation. The pus-filled cavity can also be warm along with the surrounding spaces. This is due to the underlying inflammation. 

5.

Which Medication Works the Best for the Treatment of Abscess?

The antibiotic works best for the treatment of an abscess. Antibiotics can be used in the form of ointments or tablets. The various antibiotics that can be used for the treatment of abscesses include:
1. Amoxicillin. 
2. Cephalexin. 
3. Doxycycline.
4. Minocycline. 
5. Clindamycin.

6.

What Are Some Serious Symptoms of an Abscess?

Some of the serious side effects of an abscess include
- The abscess is larger than 0.39 inches in its diameter. 
- The abscess is quickly spreading to its adjacent regions. 
- Severe pain associated with the abscess. 
- The onset of fever. 
- Difficulty in moving that part of the body. 

7.

What Is the Permanent Cure for an Abscess?

The permanent cure for an abscess is the surgical drainage of the infection. This is a small procedure that involves making a cut to the infected area and draining the pus. This can be performed with the help of a local anesthetic agent. 

8.

Can Permanent Damage Occur Due to an Abscess?

Yes, abscesses can cause permanent damage to the affected area. It can permanently obstruct the blood flow to the affected region, disrupting its functioning. An abscess can also spread to other parts of the body. 

9.

What Is the Maximum Duration To Which an Abscess Can Last?

The duration to which an abscess last depends on the treatment that an abscess receives. If given appropriate treatment, the abscess resolves within two weeks. If left untreated, the abscess can exist for months together. This can spread to other parts of the body, also. Hence, appropriate treatment should be given. 

10.

What Types of Abscess May Need Surgery?

The following may be the symptoms that an abscess needs surgery:
1. A large abscess that is bigger than 0.39 inches in size. 
2. An abscess that is near important structures such as blood vessels. 
3. An abscess that is spreading quickly. 
4. An abscess that is not responding well to medications. 

11.

Which Diseases Are Associated With Abscesses?

The following conditions may be associated with abscess: 
1. Diabetes mellitus.
2. Long-standing steroid therapy.
3. Cancer and chemotherapy.
4. AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
5. Sickle cell disease. 
6. Crohn’s disease. 

12.

Where in the Body Does Abscess Occur More Commonly?

An abscess occurs more commonly in places that are prone to accumulate moisture. This includes
1. Armpits.
2. Thighs.
3. In between toes. 
4. Hands and feet.
5. Buttocks. 
Dr. Sugreev Singh
Dr. Sugreev Singh

Internal Medicine

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