A skin abscess is a localized collection of pus that generally develops in response to infection or to the presence of other foreign materials under the skin. An abscess is typically painful, and it appears as a swollen area that is warm to the touch. The skin surrounding an abscess often appears pink or red.
Abscesses can develop in many parts of the body, but they usually involve the skin surface. Skin abscesses are also referred to as boils, especially when they affect the deeper, or subcutaneous, layers of the skin.
An abscess is not the same thing as a cyst. Both are fluid-filled lumps, but an abscess is infected while a cyst is not. However, a cyst can become infected and turn into an abscess.
Unlike other infections, antibiotics alone will not typically cure a skin abscess. In general, abscesses must open and drain to improve.
What Are Skin Abscess Symptoms and Signs?
- The symptoms of a skin abscess vary depending on the location of the abscess, but in general, individuals will experience the following:
- A painful, compressible mass that is red, warm to the touch, and tender.
- As an abscess progresses, it may “point” and come to a head. Pustular drainage and spontaneous rupture may occur.
- Most abscesses will continue to worsen without care and proper incision and drainage. The infection can potentially spread to deeper tissues and even into the bloodstream.