Skin abscess

Definition

A skin abscess is a buildup of pus in or on the skin.

Causes

Skin abscesses are common and affect people of all ages. They occur when an infection causes pus to collect in the skin.

Skin abscesses may occur after developing:

A skin abscess may occur anywhere on the body.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider can diagnose the problem by looking at the affected area. The drainage from the sore may be sent to the lab for a culture. This can help identify the cause of the infection.

Treatment

You can apply moist heat (such as warm compresses) to help the abscess drain and heal faster. DO NOT push and squeeze on the abscess.

Your provider may cut open the abscess and drain it. If this is done:

You may need to take antibiotics by mouth to control the infection.

If you have methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or another staph infection, follow instructions for self-care at home. 

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most skin abscesses can be cured with proper treatment. Infections caused by MRSA respond to specific antibiotics.

Possible Complications

Complications that can occur from an abscess include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you have any signs of skin infection, including:

Call your provider right away if you develop new symptoms during or after treatment of a skin abscess.

Prevention

Keep the skin around minor wounds clean and dry to prevent infection. Call your provider if you notice signs of infection. Take care of minor infections promptly.


Review Date: 10/24/2016
Reviewed By: David L. Swanson, MD, Vice Chair of Medical Dermatology, Associate Professor of Dermatology, Mayo Medical School, Scottsdale, AZ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.