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Skin Abscess: Develops under the skin.
Internal Abscess: Develops inside the body (possibly in an organ or between organs).
In general, an abscess is easy to locate on the body and can be felt by touching the infected area. This article explains everything you need to know about the abscess, its treatment, and prevention. Let us begin by understanding its symptoms.
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When it comes to skin abscess, the infected area on your body will appear swollen and filled with pus. You will detect a boil on the infected surface when it comes to skin abscess. A few other symptoms of this infection are high temperature and chills.
On the other hand, an internal abscess is a bit difficult to detect. Some evident signs of the internal abscess include pain in the infected area of the body, high temperature, feeling sick, loss of appetite, increased sweating, etc.
Most abscess infections are caused by staphylococcal bacteria. When this bacteria enters your body, the immune system sends white blood cells to fight the infection. Because of this, you will experience swelling (inflammation) in the infected area and the death of the nearby skin cells.
Further, a cavity is developed that fills with pus, forming an abscess. The pus includes dead cells, white blood cells, and bacteria. The abscess formed can increase in size and get more painful as the infection spreads, continuing to produce more pus.
At times, the staphylococcal bacteria releases a toxin known as Panton-Valentine Leukocidin (PVL) that kills the white blood cells in your body. There could be chances of repeated skin infections and abnormalities due to this toxin.
In rare case scenarios, the abscess can be formed due to a virus, fungi, or parasites.
Type of Abscess
The bacteria getting under your skin can lead to the formation of an abscess. This can happen on any part of the body surface but are common in areas such as:
On the other hand, an abscess can form in areas with minor injuries such as a small cut or gaze. It can even develop when a sebaceous gland (oil gland) or sweat gland in your skin is blocked.
When the infection reaches deeper in your body, an abscess can be formed inside your abdomen area. It often happens due to:
The infection can spread into your abdomen and form an abscess in several ways.
For instance, a bacterial infection such as pneumonia in your lungs can cause a lung abscess, which can further spread into your abdomen.
In case you’ve an abscess infection, visit a General Practitioner (GP) for further diagnosis of the affected area (skin or internal).
Type of Abscess
In case of a skin abscess, your GP will examine the affected area and ask you the following question:
Besides, the GP will take a sample of your pus and send it for further testing. Doing so helps them understand what specific bacteria is causing the abscess, and the treatment is recommended accordingly.
In case you’ve experienced more than one skin abscess, the GP may ask you to provide your urine sample. It will get tested for glucose and helps them understand whether you’ve diabetes. Note that people with diabetes are most likely to develop skin abscesses.
If the formation of the abscess is repeated, the GP will test the bacteria even further to check whether it produces PVL toxin. If it does, appropriate treatment will be recommended.
The diagnosis of an internal abscess is quite difficult because it is not visible. You might have to consult a specialist to get it treated and diagnosed based on your symptoms and other health conditions.
Here are some serious but rare complications that may arise out of a skin abscess:
Infection may spread from the abscess to other parts of the body.
Poisoning of the blood and damage to the surrounding skin.
Damage to internal parts of the body if the infected bacteria travels inside.
Tissue death in the area around the abscess leads to sepsis or gangrene.
The infection may spread from the skin to bone in rare cases.
There are several ways in which an abscess infection can be treated. The treatment mainly depends on the type of abscess and how large the infection is. However, the main treatment options for abscess are as follows:
A drainage process
Usually, a small skin abscess can drain naturally and get better on its own without medical treatment. However, you can take some steps to treat this condition at home so that it can heal faster:
You can reduce the redness and swelling of the infection by applying heat in the form of a warm compress.
Regularly clean and sanitise the affected area and make sure you do not expose it to dust or moisture. Try to keep the affected region dry.
If there is pus coming out of the abscess, you will have to periodically clean it out and then sanitise it.
Consult a physician who can provide you with an ointment that you can apply regularly at home.
However, at times, antibiotics alone don’t help in clearing the skin abscess. It is important to drain the pus and clear the infection completely. If that’s not done, it can continue to grow and spread in other areas of the body.
If your abscess has spread to another part of the body, if your abscess hurts a lot or if your abscess has not gone away over a long period of time, you must consult a doctor or general practitioner (GP). The GP might prescribe you an antibiotic course that helps clear the infection and prevent it from spreading to other areas of the body. For recurrent skin abscesses, you will have to wash off the bacteria from your body to avoid getting infected again. It can be done by using medicated soaps and antibiotic creams recommended by the GP.
When the skin abscess needs to drain, you might have to undergo a small operation process. You will be put under anaesthesia during the surgery. In the draining process, the surgeon will cut into the abscess and drain the pus. A sample of the pus may be collected for further examination.
Once the pus is drained, the infected area is cleaned using sterile saline. The abscess is left open to heal but is usually covered with a wound dressing. This helps in draining any additional pus that is produced after the procedure. In case the abscess is deep, an antiseptic dressing known as gauze wick is placed inside the wound to keep it open for healing. Note that the procedure usually leaves a small scar once the wound is healed.
Usually, a small skin abscess can drain naturally and get better on its own without medical treatment. You can reduce the redness and swelling of the infection by applying heat in the form of a warm compress. Also, make sure that you thoroughly wash the component used for warm compression to avoid the spread of the infection.
When the skin abscess is big, the GP might prescribe you an antibiotic course that helps clear the infection and prevent its spreading to other areas of the body. For recurring skin abscess, you will have to wash off the bacteria from your body to avoid getting infected again. It can be done by using medicated soaps and antibiotic creams recommended by the GP.
However, at times, antibiotics alone don’t help in clearing the skin abscess. It is important to drain the pus and clear the infection completely. If that’s not done, it can continue to grow and spread in other areas of the body. When the skin abscess needs to drain, you might have to undergo a small operation process. You will be under anesthesia during the surgery. In the draining process, the surgeon will cut into the abscess and drain the pus. A sample of the pus may be collected for further examination.
Once the pus is drained, the infected area is cleaned using sterile saline (a salt solution). The abscess is left open to heal but is usually covered with a wound dressing. This helps in draining any additional pus that is produced after the procedure. In case the abscess is deep, an antiseptic dressing known as gauze wick is placed inside the wound to keep it open for healing. Note that the procedure usually leaves a small scar once the wound is healed.
The pus from an internal abscess is drained used two ways -
When the internal abscess is small, the doctors can drain it using a needle. Local anaesthesia is used for the procedure, depending on the location of the abscess. Usually, ultrasound scans or CT scans are used to help guide the needle into the right location. After locating the internal abscess, a small incision is made and a thin plastic tube (drainage catheter) is inserted into the infection. The catheter drains the pus into a bag and is usually left inside for weeks.
It is a day care procedure, meaning you can go home the same day after it is completed. However, some people may have to stay in the hospital for a few days after the procedure, depending on their other health concerns.
An internal abscess may need surgery in case:
It is too large to be drained using a needle
The needle is unable to locate the abscess safely
The needle drainage was not effective in removing the pus
The surgery that you have to undergo depends on the type of internal abscess and its location.
Skin abscesses are usually formed when the bacteria enter your skin through a minor injury, the root of a hair, or blocked oil or sweat glands. To avoid this from happening, ensure that you keep your skin clean and healthy. You can reduce the spread of the infection to other areas of the body by doing the following:
Wash your hands regularly and encourage everyone around you to do the same
Use separate towels and do not share baths
Wait until your existing abscess is treated/fully healed before using any equipment, such as gym equipment, saunas, or swimming pools
Besides, it is best if you do not squeeze the pus from the infection by yourself. It increases the risk of spreading the infection to other areas of the body. Use a tissue to wipe the pus and dispose of the same to avoid spreading the infection to other people. Wash your hands after disposing of the tissue.
Women should be careful when shaving their legs, underarm areas, and bikini areas. Avoid sharing razors or toothbrushes. The same is applied to men. Also, you can reduce the risk of developing an abscess by following a healthy diet, losing weight healthily, and quitting smoking habits.
While it is easy to locate and prevent a skin abscess, an internal abscess can cause further health complications when not treated immediately. Those suffering from an internal abscess infection and want to undergo surgery, get in touch with your health insurance provider and see whether your policy covers the procedure. That way, you no longer have to worry about the surgery and treatment expenses of the abscess.
Skin abnormalities are treatable and can be prevented from spreading to other areas of your body. Ensure that you take preventive measures to avoid infecting other body surfaces and people around you.
Yes, most abscesses can be treated at home by applying heat and regularly cleaning the area. The majority of abscesses usually heal on their own. In some rare cases, you may need to visit the doctor to get your wound treated.
You should visit a doctor if:
Your abscess does not go away even after a long time.
It is spreading to other parts of your body.
It hurts a lot.
You should not use any creams or medicines without consulting your doctor. They can provide the right medicine or ointment for treatment.
Most abscesses will go away on their own but some may end up leaving scars.
You should not try to pop an abscess on your own and consult a professional doctor or skin care specialist to get it done. However, if your abscess starts leaking puss on its own, you should clean it carefully with tissue paper and sanitise it regularly.