Authored by Revere Health

What is an Abscess?

November 23, 2016 | Family Medicine

What is an Abscess?

Germs can cause a wide range of issues in the body, and abscesses are some of the most common. Defined as a pocket of pus, an abscess is a blister-like mark that can form on numerous parts of the body. Abscesses are generally red or pink and tender to the touch, and are easy to detect on the surface of the body.

There are several causes and types of abscesses, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe if left untreated. Here are some tips for recognizing, treating and preventing abscesses on the body.


Abscess Basics and Causes

The primary cause of an abscess on the body is germs finding their way under the skin or into damaged or obstructed glands on the body. This can happen through minor cuts, through hair follicles or even through sweat glands. The visible abscess that shows up is just your body’s natural response to these germs as it tries to destroy them.

As this process takes place, the center of the abscess fills with resulting dead cells and other junk. This is what causes the pus present in abscesses, and it also usually leads to pain and tenderness in the area as pressure builds up and inflammation increases.

Because of their possibility of high germ counts, some of the most common areas for abscesses to show up in the body are:

  • Groin, anus and vagina
  • Base of the spine
  • Near a tooth
  • Armpits
  • Near a hair follicle (these abscesses are called boils, or furuncles)

Because abscesses are really just a form of infection, there are dozens of conditions which can increase risk level for severe abscesses. People who work or live in germ-heavy environments can also be at higher risk.


The red, sensitive and painful marks on the body are the primary symptoms of abscesses, and they tend to worsen when left untreated for too long. Some abscesses will come to a head like a large pimple, a process during which the pus in the center becomes visible with the potential to rupture. Beyond this, the largest risks of untreated abscesses involve spreading to other parts of the body and, in worst-case scenarios, serious infections developing as a result. The worst of these infections can even take place inside the body rather than in visible areas.

Treatment Options


It’s okay to give a minor abscess some time before seeking medical attention – some will correct themselves without any action needed. In certain minor cases, applying heat and compression to the affected area can help reduce the abscess before it becomes more serious.

However, those waiting to see a doctor for an abscess should not attempt to poke at the abscess or drain it in any way. If these processes are necessary, or if any of a number of potential warning signs is present along with an abscess, a doctor should be involved.


Most abscesses are unique among infections in that they generally can’t be cured simply by taking antibiotics – draining the pus is usually necessary for them to make a full recovery. A doctor will numb and sterilize the area where the abscess is located, drain it, and then insert a packing that reduces bleeding. Bandages will be placed over this packing material.

For cases where people feel fever or other symptoms associated with abscess infection, these issues can begin to disappear almost immediately as the pus is drained. Consult your doctor if these conditions persist longer than a day or two.


Following draining, a process of a week to 10 days is usually needed to keep the abscess clean and ensure it has been completely removed. Doctors will give instructions that vary depending on the severity of the abscess and symptoms, but these generally include simple directions for changing bandaging and cleaning the wound. In some cases, a doctor will schedule a specific follow-up appointment. Antibiotics are also commonly prescribed as part of this process.


Our Utah family medicine providers are trained in a broad range of disciplines including internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology and geriatrics.





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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.