A skin abscess is a buildup of pus in or on the skin.
Abscess - skin; Cutaneous abscess; Subcutaneous abscess; MRSA - abscess; Staph infection - abscess
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 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.
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.
Most skin abscesses can be cured with proper treatment. Infections caused by MRSA respond to specific antibiotics.
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.
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.
Holtzman LC, Hitti E, Harrow J. Incision and drainage. In: Roberts JR, ed. Roberts and Hedges' Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 37.
Marks JG, Miller JJ. Localized erythema. In: Marks JG, Miller JJ, eds. Lookingbill and Marks' Principles of Dermatology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2013:chap 15.
Que YA, Moreillon P. Staphylococcus aureus (including staphylococcal toxic shock syndrome). In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, Updated Edition. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 196.
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.
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