Abscess – Conditions

what causes abscess


What is an Abscess?

An abscess is a painful mass inside which is pus, bacteria, and debris. This pus pocket is surrounded by a pink or deep red-colored area. These are usually caused due to a bacterial infection and can show up on any part of your body. There are two types of abscesses:

Skin Abscess

It is also known as boiling and it develops underneath the surface of the skin. It can appear on any part of the body but the most common forms of skin abscesses are, armpit abscess (axillae), neck abscess, and ear abscess.

Internal abscess

These are the abscesses or cysts that develop inside the body or in an organ. The most common type of internal abscess is a dental abscess. It occurs when pus builds up inside the gums or teeth.

Other types of internal abscesses include:

  • Amebic liver abscess
  • Spinal cord abscess
  •  Pyogenic liver abscess
  •  Epidural abscess  
  • Peritonsillar abscess
  • Bartholin abscess
  • Anorectal abscess
  • Lung abscess
  •  Brain abscess 
  • Abdominal abscess

What Causes Abscess?

An abscess is caused when your immune system responds to an infection (mostly bacterial) or some form of foreign substance. Parasites can cause an abscess in your body’s organs, which can lead to extremely serious medical conditions. A foreign object lodged inside the body, for example, a bullet can cause an abscess. Other common causes include:

  • Preoperative wound contamination is an infection at the site of a previous surgery
  • Trauma to the skin for example a puncture wound
  • A tooth infection can result in a periodontal abscess

Abscess Symptoms

The symptoms of the abscess vary depending on where on the body it is occurring and the underlying disease, disorder, or condition that may have caused it. A skin abscess appears as a painful, swollen, pus-filled lump in a particular area. The lump may drain fluid from the skin and it may even cause ulceration of the skin. Other symptoms that may occur in case of a skin abscess or internal abscess:

  • Fever and chills
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Joint pain
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Enlarged lymph nodes

Pain in the area the abscess has formed for example abdominal pain if it’s an abdominal abscess. Some severe symptoms that may occur if the abscess is formed in an organ:

  • Jaundice
  • Seizure
  • Severe weakness or paralysis
  • Fainting

Abscess Diagnosis

In case of a skin abscess, a preventive care physician will examine the affected area. After examination, a sample of the pus will be taken from your abscess which will be sent for testing. This will allow the physician to narrow down which bacteria may have caused the abscess formation.

If you have recurring abscesses on your skin, the preventive care physician would recommend more extensive testing of the bacteria found in the pus to see if it is producing Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL) toxin. In this case, further treatment would be recommended.

If an abscess is formed inside the body, your physician may ask you a series of questions after which you would be urged to get a CT scan or MRI done of the area where the physician may suspect an abscess formation. After seeing the scans, he/she will refer you to a specialist.

Abscess Treatment

Treatment for most forms of abscesses includes draining the pus pocket formed inside an abscess and treating the infection that led to it with the help of prescription antibiotics. Minor cutaneous abscesses can often be managed with self-care.

For internal abscess, the puss will be drained using percutaneous abscess drainage which means inserting a needle through the skin to drain the abscess. Antibiotics will usually be given at the same time, to help kill the infection and prevent it from spreading.

You may even need surgery if the internal abscess is too large or if the abscess is in a location where the needle can not reach. The type of surgery you may have depends on the size and location of the abscess.

When to See a Doctor?

You should seek immediate medical attention if the abscess has grown or is growing and in case you have spiked a fever because of it. You should also see a primary care physician if the abscess or cyst is near your rectal or groin area.

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