What is an Abscess?
An abscess accumulates pus that can form in different body areas, including just beneath the skin. Typically, they result from a bacterial infection, and smaller abscesses can resolve spontaneously.
The need for treatment for an abscess is determined by factors such as pain, size, and potential embarrassment, as well as the severity of symptoms. Sometimes, no treatment is necessary, and the abscess will resolve independently. Larger abscesses may respond to antibiotics if identified early, while others may necessitate a minor surgical procedure to drain them.
Various types of abscesses manifest with distinct symptoms. When an abscess forms just beneath the skin, you may observe:
- Swelling filled with yellow or white pus.
- Hardness upon touch.
- A pointed or headed appearance.
In the case of a skin abscess, you might also experience:
- Pain or tenderness.
- Warmth to the touch.
- Surrounding skin that appears pink or red.
While your body attempts to combat the bacterial infection, you may feel unwell or encounter symptoms such as fever and chills.
Internal abscesses can develop within your body, either within an organ or in the spaces between organs. These types of abscesses typically arise due to underlying conditions. For instance, a liver infection may lead to a liver abscess.
Internal abscesses are more common in individuals with weakened immune systems. Symptoms may include localised pain, a general sense of malaise, fever, and chills.
Consulting a doctor is advisable if the abscess is located in an obvious area, such as the hands or face, or if:
- The affected area becomes painful, or its size increases.
- The abscess measures more than 1cm in diameter.
- You are engaged in intravenous (IV) drug use.
- You have underlying medical conditions such as cancer, AIDS, diabetes, sickle cell disease, poor circulation, or leukaemia.
- The abscess has formed near your groin or rectal area.
- You are undergoing chemotherapy or steroid therapy.
- You have a high fever exceeding 38.5 degrees Celsius.
- There is a red streak extending from the abscess; this indicates a spreading infection.
Our doctors can diagnose your abscess through visual examination during an online video consultation if it is visible. In many instances, additional tests may not be necessary. Still, if required, you may be referred to a specialist for pus sample collection and bacterial testing to determine the causative agent.
For concerns about internal abscesses, it is recommended to consult with a GP for guidance. Typically, ultrasound and blood tests are employed for diagnosis.
People with diabetes, who are more prone to abscesses, may also have their glucose levels checked by the doctor, as recurrent abscesses could indicate an autoimmune disorder.
Abscesses are primarily the result of infections. When bacteria infiltrate a particular area, your immune system dispatches white blood cells to combat the infection. This immune response leads to swelling, and in some cases, it can cause tissue damage, resulting in the formation of an abscess filled with pus.
Bacteria can access your skin through minor cuts, grazes, hair follicles, or blocked sweat glands. This is most likely to occur in regions of your body where there is sweat, hair, or friction, such as the underarms, hands, genitals, feet, vagina (Bartholin's abscess), or buttocks (pilonidal abscess).
On the other hand, internal abscesses can develop within an organ or the spaces between organs, usually due to an underlying medical condition. In some instances, you may not experience symptoms; in others, you may feel localised pain or discomfort. Diagnosis of internal abscesses often involves the use of ultrasound.