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Skin layers
Skin layers


Skin abscess

Definition:

A skin abscess is a build up of pus in or on the skin.



Alternative Names:

Abscess - skin; Cutaneous abscess; Subcutaneous abscess



Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

Skin abscesses are common. They occur when an infection causes pus to collect in the skin.

Skin abscesses may occur after:

  • A bacterial infection (often staphylococcus)
  • A minor wound or injury
  • Boils
  • Folliculitis

A skin abscess may occur anywhere on the body. The problem affects people of all ages.



Symptoms:

Symptoms may include:

  • Fever or chills, in some cases
  • Local swelling around the infected spot
  • Hard of tissue (induration )
  • Skin lesion that may be an open or closed sore, or domed nodule
  • Redness, tenderness, and warmth in the area
  • Fluid drainage


Signs and tests:

Your health care provider can diagnose the problem by looking at the affected area. The drainage from the sore may be sent to the lab for a culture. This can help identify the cause of the infection.

 



Treatment:

You can apply moist heat (such as warm compresses) to help the abscess drain and heal faster. DO NOT push and squeeze on the abscess.

The health care provider may cut open the abscess and drain it.

  • Numbing medicine will be put on your skin.
  • Packing material may be left in wound to help it heal.

You may need to take antibiotics by mouth to control the infection.



Support Groups:



Expectations (prognosis):

Most skin abscesses can be cured with proper treatment. Infections caused by methicillin-resistant staph aureus (MRSA) are do not respond to regular antibiotics and need special medicines.



Complications:
  • Spread of infection in the same area
  • Spread of the infection in the blood and throughout the body
  • Tissue death (gangrene )


Calling your health care provider:

Call your health care provider if you have any signs of skin infection, including:

  • Drainage of any kind
  • Fever
  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Swelling

Talk to your health care provider if you develop new symptoms during or after treatment for a skin abscess.



Prevention:

Keep the skin around minor wounds clean and dry to prevent infection. Call your health care provider if you notice signs of infection. Take care of minor infections promptly.



References:

Pasternack MS, Swartz MN. Cellulitis, necrotizing fasciitis, and subcutaneous tissue infections. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 90.

Daum RS. Staphylococcus aureus. In: Long SS, ed. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2012:chap 115.




Review Date: 11/20/2012
Reviewed By: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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