What is an abscess?
Skin Abscess Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment
An abscess is a formation of pus underneath the skin on different parts of the body. Bacterial infections are the typical cause of abscess. There are large abscesses that contain plenty of pus inside it, while there are smaller ones that can subside without any medical treatment or intervention.
Symptoms of a skin abcess
Skin abscesses are characterized by swelling accompanied by the following symptoms:
- Has a small head or point in the middle of the swelled skin
- Contains white or yellow pus underneath it
- Feels hard and warm to touch
- Is often tender and painful
- Surrounded by skin that is inflamed and reddish/pinkish in colour
You may get the chills and fever if you have a skin abscess. This is your body’s natural way of fighting off the bacteria that’s caused the pus collection.
Meanwhile, you may have a collection of pus inside any body organ as well. This is called internal abscess and is usually related to a specific disease. Infection in internal body organs may directly cause an internal abscess to develop.
If you have an internal abscess, you may be feeling under-the-weather, have fever and chills, and experience pain in the affected area. A weak immune system is often the cause of internal abscesses since your body finds it hard to fight off bacteria that infested your internal organs.
Diagnose a skin abcess
Abscesses are diagnosed by our Mobidoctor physicians by assessing your visible skin swelling. They may prescribe antibiotics and give advice to help you manage your symptoms. No further testing is needed in most cases.
Testing and referrals will need to be done if your condition worsens due to the following factors:
- You experience a high-grade fever above 38.5 degrees Celsius
- You already have a spreading infection as evidenced by visible red streaks coming out from your swelling
- Your abscess becomes additionally painful and enlarged
- Your abscess is larger than 1cm across
- Your abscess is at the rectal or groin areas
- You have a condition that weakens the immune system further, such as poor circulation, leukaemia, AIDS, cancer, sickle-cell disease, or diabetes
- You are currently on steroids or chemotherapy
- You use IV drugs recreationally or have an addiction to it
Pus samples may need to be aspirated from your abscess swelling and sent to a laboratory to identify the organism that caused your illness. Diabetic people may also get recurring abscesses due to elevated glucose levels, so physicians may want to check on your blood sugar levels if you’re one of them.
Internal abscesses cannot be pinpointed visually at once. Speak to your doctor so he can schedule an ultrasound and blood examination to diagnose or rule out an internal abscess.
What causes a skin abscess?
A bacterial infection is the main cause of abscesses. When an infection crops up, your body sends its white blood cells to fight the invading bacteria. This causes some of your skin tissues to die in the affected areas, leaving a gap where pus collects and eventually becomes an abscess.
Bacteria can easily get into your skin via small cuts, grazes, and blocked sweat glands and hair follicles. Body parts that are most prone to experiencing friction and sweat often become the victims of abscesses. These areas include:
Meanwhile, an internal abscess forms inside an organ or in spaces between organs. It’s caused by other medical conditions and infections and may be more serious than a skin abscess.
It may be hard to learn if you have an internal abscess because you may not feel outward symptoms at all. Perhaps a bit of recurring pain on a specific area of your body may alert you to the presence of such an abscess. Diagnostic procedures such as blood tests and ultrasounds are needed to check exactly where the abscess is and what’s causing it.
Skin abcess factors
Anybody can get an abscess, but you are especially prone if you have any of these immune system-weakening illnesses:
- Sickle cell disease
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Severe trauma injuries
- Severe burns
- Peripheral vascular diseases
You can also get abscesses if you’re on chemotherapy or long-term steroid therapy.
How to treat a skin abscess?
Minor skin abscesses typically need no treatment, as they subside on their own quickly. You can hasten its recovery by applying warm compresses over the swelling. But if this minor abscess suddenly enlarges, becomes softer, or it has formed in a highly-visible area of the body, then seek the help of a physician.
Antibiotics may need to be prescribed to fight off the infection causing the abscess. Our physicians may also give you a referral for abscess drainage.
Abscess drainage is a quick procedure wherein the collection of pus from your abscess’s swelling will be removed and drained. The physician creates a small incision on your swelled skin to drain out the pus. The incision will then be cleaned thoroughly and dressed accordingly to clear out the infection and halt its spread. This procedure will be done with a local anaesthetic, so it will be pain-free for you.
Now, once your physician confirms a diagnosis of internal abscess, pus drainage needs to be done as soon as possible. This will be done through surgery or by inserting specialized needles through your skin. You will also take a course of antibiotics to stop the infection altogether.