Frequently Asked Questions


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What is an abscess?

An abscess is an area under the skin where pus (infected fluid) collects. An abscess is often caused by bacteria. You can get an abscess anywhere on your body.

What increases my risk for getting an abscess?

  • You are bitten by an animal.

  • You get a foreign object lodged under your skin.

  • You sweat a lot.

  • You have a hair follicle that gets infected. The hair follicle is where a piece of hair meets your skin.

  • You have health problems, such as diabetes or obesity.

  • You inject drugs. This can include legal drugs, such as insulin. It also can include illegal drugs, such as heroin.

What are the signs and symptoms of an abscess?

You may have an abscess if you have a swollen mass that is red and painful. It may change in shape or size and become hard. Pus may leak out of the mass. The pus is white or yellow and may smell bad.

How is an abscess diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine the area. He will see how red or swollen your abscess is or check to see if it is draining. A sample of fluid from your abscess may show what is causing your infection.

How is an abscess treated?

  • Soak your abscess in warm, clean water as often as directed. You also may apply a moist cloth to the abscess. This will help the abscess heal. If the abscess needs to be drained, warm soaks can help get it ready.

  • Medicines may help decrease pain or treat a bacterial infection.

What are other treatments for an abscess?

If your abscess has not drained on its own, your healthcare provider may want to do one of the following:

  • Incision and drainage is when your healthcare provider makes a cut in the abscess to allow the pus to drain. Ask for more information about incision and drainage.

  • Surgery may be needed if your abscess needs to be removed completely. He may do this if the abscess is on your hands or buttocks. Surgery can decrease the chance that the abscess comes back.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your abscess returns.

  • The area around your abscess has red streaks or is warm and painful.

  • You have back or stomach pain. You may have aches in your muscles or joints.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • The area around your abscess becomes very painful, red, or swollen all of a sudden.

  • You have blisters filled with blood, or your skin makes a crackling sound.

  • You have a fever or chills.

  • You have pain in your rectum or pelvis.

  • You are very sweaty, or your heart feels like it is fluttering.

  • You feel faint or confused.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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