Information on skin abscesses found around a tooth or on the skin in the groin, vaginal and anal areas.

Select a Topic

  1. What is an Abscess?
  2. What Causes an Abscess?
  3. Diagnosing Abscesses
  4. Help for Abscesses
  5. More Information on Abscesses

What is an Abscess?

An abscess is described as a tender sore or lump that can be pressed on easily. It has a middle area filled with pus and debris. It is surrounded by a colored area that ranges from pink to deep red and becomes swollen. This area is usually painful and warm to the touch. Abscesses may appear on any area of the body and predominantly surfaces in the armpits, at the base of the spine, around a tooth, in the groin or around the vaginal and anus areas.

If a hair follicle becomes inflamed, this may also lead to an abscess being formed, commonly known as a boil. If left untreated, an abscess can lead to serious complications by spreading to the tissues under the skin, into the bloodstream and a fever may even develop.

The most common symptoms and signs include:

  • Red, warm sore that is tender, painful and warm to touch
  • Develop into a point with pus and debris inside

What Causes an Abscess?

Abscesses develop when an obstruction of the sebaceous (oil) glands or sweat glands, minor breaks of the skin or inflammation of the hair follicles occurs as a result of a bacterial infection. Germs enter the skin and begin to grow causing inflammation around the tissues. People who have weak immune systems are most at risk of developing abscesses because their bodies struggle to fight off these infections.


Risk factors include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Chronic steroid therapy
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Leukemia
  • AIDS
  • Crohn's Disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Peripheral vascular disorders
  • Severe burns
  • Severe trauma
  • Sickle cell disease

Diagnosing Abscesses

The diagnosis of an abscess is based on your symptoms, a physical examination and medical history. Your doctor will want to know how long the abscess has been present, if you injured that particular area, experienced a fever or have any allergies. If you have an underlying disease such as cancer, diabetes, AIDS, leukemia or poor circulation or are on medications such as chemotherapy or steroids, inform your doctor immediately.

Certain tests may be performed depending on the location of the abscess. For instance, if the abscess is present on your arm or leg, your doctor will check for a lymph gland in the groin area or under your arm. If the abscess is in the anus area, a rectal exam may be performed.

Help for Abscesses

It is very important that you do not press on the abscess or try to stick any sharp objects into the abscess as this will cause further infection. For an abscess that is small, less than 1 cm, simply apply warm compresses to the affected area 4 times daily for about 30 minutes. In cases where the abscess is large, the area around the abscess will have to be numbed.

Your doctor will perform a local anesthetic to numb the pain. Antiseptic solution is used to cover the affected area and sterile towels are placed around it. Your doctor will then cut the abscess open and drain the pus. Packing is inserted into the cavity and covered with a bandage.

Painkillers or antibiotics may be prescribed if you are experiencing pain but most people tend to feel better almost immediately once the abscess has been removed. Cleaning the wound daily is essential for a speedy a recovery – your doctor will give you instructions on how to clean and care for the abscess.

More Information for Abscesses

Tips to prevent an abscess

There are certain measures that can be taken to prevent an abscess developing and these include:

  • Maintain good personal hygiene by keeping your skin clean and washing regularly with soap and water
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet filled with fresh fruit and vegetables to boost your immune system
  • Drink lots of water to flush out toxins in the body
  • Avoid nicking yourself when shaving under your arms or pubic area
  • Shower instead of taking baths – baths are a breeding ground for bacteria
  • Increase your intake of vitamins and antioxidants to help fight the bacteria that causes abscesses
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