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eMed previously Babylon Health

Skin Abscess

Edited by Dr Claudia Pastides, 25th April 2019

A skin abscess - often referred to as a boil - is a pus-filled bump that sits underneath the skin. Abscesses are usually caused by infections with bacteria, and they can be painful and tender to touch. Some abscesses will not require any treatment, and will disappear on their own. However, large abscesses or abscesses that don’t get better on their own may need antibiotics or a procedure in order for them to heal. Speak to a doctor today to find out how you can treat your abscess quickly and effectively.

Causes of skin abscesses

Skin abscesses can be caused by a number of things, including:

  • Sebaceous or sweat glands becoming blocked
  • Inflammation of hair follicles
  • Small punctures or breaks in the skin

Each of these issues can cause bacterial infections under the skin. White blood cells will be sent to attack the bacteria, which can affect the surrounding tissue and lead to swelling and pain. This creates a hole which then fills with pus - a mixture of dead tissue, bacteria and white blood cells.

Symptoms of an abscess

A skin abscess will usually look like a swollen lump under the skin. The area around the bump is often red and painful, and the centre may appear yellow or white. As abscesses are often caused by an infection, you may also see other symptoms, including:

  • A fever
  • Fatigue
  • A general feeling of being unwell

Treatment for skin abscesses

Most small skin abscesses will drain naturally over time. Applying a warm compress to the area can help speed up the healing process, but you should never try to squeeze or puncture the abscess. More severe abscesses may require treatment by a professional. If the lump continues to enlarge over time, if redness is spreading, or if your fever is high, contact a medical professional for their diagnosis. This may involve antibiotics to clear the infection or referral to have the abscess drained.

The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.