Sometimes they develop in areas where there is hair, such as the armpits and pubic area.
A skin abscess is a lumpy, walled collection of pus that appears within or just below the surface of the skin.
Abscesses are generally caused by a bacterial infection and tend to appear on the back, chest, buttocks, and certain areas of the face.
A boil occurs when a hair follicle becomes infected and creates a small abscess. A carbuncle is defined as multiple pus-draining follicles that combine to create a single infected mass.
Boils and carbuncles tend to appear on areas of hairy skin that have been exposed to minor trauma, sweat, or friction (such as under the belt or where the skin has been irritated from shaving).
Causes of skin abscess
Abscesses are often caused by bacteria, called Staphylococcus aureus, which normally exist on the skin and inside the nose. It can enter the body through a cut, abrasion, puncture, or even an insect bite.
Other factors can increase the risk of S. aureus infection, including:
- A chronic skin condition such as acne or eczema .
- A weakened immune system.
- Come into close contact with an infected person.
- Poor hygiene.
Another condition called folliculitis can cause an abscess to form within a hair follicle. The infection begins when a hair becomes trapped below the surface and cannot break through (a condition commonly known as ingrown hair).
Folliculitis can be caused by shaving (especially in black men) and is also associated with swimming in an improperly chlorinated pool or tub of water.
Symptoms of skin abscess
An abscess looks like a small lump or pimple that can turn into a swollen, fluid-filled cyst. The skin around an abscess is usually tender and warm to the touch. In some cases, an abscess can be extremely hard and firm (hardened).
Depending on the cause, the appearance of an abscess may be accompanied by fever, nausea, or swollen lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy).
The diagnosis is usually made only on the appearance. While smaller abscesses can usually be treated at home, medical attention should be considered if any of the following occur:
- Development of an abscess on the face.
- Development of multiple abscesses.
- Worsening or extremely painful abscesses.
- Abscesses larger than two inches in diameter.
- Abscesses that persist for more than two weeks.
- Recurring abscesses.
Treatment of skin abscess
Skin abscesses are often treated by draining the abscess. However, the new findings suggest that treatment can be improved with the help of antibiotics.
The researchers found that patients who took antibiotics and had their abscess drained improved their recovery.
Dr. Marc Siegel explained: “The conventional wisdom has been that you don’t really need antibiotics. But this moves the needle on this, and suggests that perhaps there is a benefit to putting patients on prophylactic or preventative antibiotics.
As previously explained, abscesses are pus-filled infections that occur under the skin. Treatment for abscesses occurs on an outpatient basis, and the doctor will make a small incision and drain it.
Staphylococcus aureus bacteria also includes drug resistant MRSA bacteria. The researchers were interested in improving recovery time by adding antibiotics to treatment plans.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers tracked nearly 800 patients with abscesses. Two thirds of the patients were adults and one third were children.
Almost half of the abscesses removed contained MRSA bacteria, which is becoming a public concern as it is becoming increasingly difficult to treat as it is resistant to many antibiotics.
Using rare antibiotics
The researchers used two types of antibiotics: clindamycin and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (TMP-SMX). These antibiotics are not commonly used, but they have been shown to be effective against MRSA.
After drainage, one third of the patients received clindamycin, the other third received TMP-SMX, and the last third received a placebo.
After 10 days of treatment, more than eight out of ten MRSA-infected patients saw a complete clearance of the infection. Only 63 percent of those who did not receive antibiotics were cured.
Additionally, clindamycin resolved 89 percent of standard S. aureus infections, while TMP-SMX achieved an 80 percent cure rate. In the group without antibiotics, the cure rate was slightly less than 66 percent.
The higher cure rates were sustained after a month for those who took the antibiotics compared to those who took the placebo.
Sigel suggests that the use of antibiotics to treat an abscess is particularly beneficial for diabetics who have difficulty healing wounds, along with people with compromised immune systems.
Dr. Kenneth Bromberg agreed that the findings will change the doctor’s mindset when it comes to treating skin abscesses. He added: “I think clinicians should embrace antibiotics in the majority of patients based on this study.”
Prevention of a skin abscess
Most skin abscesses are caused by bacteria that get into a minor wound, a blocked hair or fat root, or a sweat gland.
Making sure your skin is clean, healthy, and largely free of bacteria can help reduce the risk of skin abscesses developing.
You can reduce the risk of spreading bacteria by:
- Wash your hands regularly.
- Encourage people in your family to wash their hands regularly.
- Use separate towels and do not share bathrooms.
- Wait until the skin abscess is completely treated and healed before using any common equipment, such as gym equipment, saunas, or swimming pool.
Do not squeeze the pus out of the abscess, as this can easily spread the bacteria to other areas of your skin. If you use tissues to clean the pus from your abscess, dispose of it immediately to prevent the spread of germs. Wash your hands after disposing of tissues.
Take care when shaving your face, legs, underarm areas, or bikini area to avoid cutting your skin. Clean any wounds immediately and visit your GP if you think there may be something stuck in your skin.
Don’t share razors or toothbrushes.
You can also help reduce the risk of skin abscesses by:
- Maintain a healthy and balanced diet.
- Lose weight if you are overweight or obese .
- Give up smoking.
It is difficult to prevent internal abscesses, as they are often complications of other conditions.