A skin abscess is a collection of pus and infected material in or on the skin. Abscesses may be from one to several inches in diameter. Folliculitis, skin abscesses, and carbuncles differ in the size and depth of the pus-filled pockets. Abscess formation may also occur adjacent to the anus -- in that case abscess is known as a perianal abscess.
Skin abscesses are fairly common. They are caused when an infection causes pus and infected material to collect in the skin. Skin abscesses may follow a bacterial infection, commonly an infection with staphylococcus. They can develop after a minor wound, injury, or as a complication of folliculitis or boils. Skin abscesses may occur anywhere on the body. They affect people of all ages.
An abscess can prevent deeper tissues from functioning properly. The infection may spread locally or throughout the body. The spread of infection through the bloodstream may cause severe complications.
Most skin abscesses can be cured with proper treatment. A doctor treats an abscess by cutting it open and draining the pus. After draining the abscess, a doctor makes sure all of the pus has been removed by washing out the pocket with a sterile salt solution. Sometimes the drained abscess is packed with gauze, which is removed 24 to 48 hours later. If the abscess is completely drained, antibiotics usually are not needed. However, if the infection has spread or if the abscess is on the middle or upper part of the face, antibiotics that kill staphylococci, such as dicloxacillin and cephalexin, may be used because of the high risk that the infection will spread to the brain.
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