What is skin abscess?

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Skin abscess: Overview

A skin abscess is a bacterial infection that forms a pocket of pus. A boil is a kind of skin abscess. The doctor may have cut an opening in the abscess so that the pus can drain out. You may have gauze in the cut so that the abscess will stay open and keep draining. You may need antibiotics. You will need to follow up with your doctor to make sure the infection has gone away.

The doctor has checked you carefully, but problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

How can you care for a skin abscess?

  • Apply warm and dry compresses, a heating pad set on low, or a hot water bottle 3 or 4 times a day for pain. Keep a cloth between the heat source and your skin.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Keep your bandage clean and dry. Change the bandage whenever it gets wet or dirty, or at least one time a day.
  • If the abscess was packed with gauze:
    • Keep follow-up appointments to have the gauze changed or removed. If the doctor instructed you to remove the gauze, follow the instructions you were given for how to remove it.
    • After the gauze is removed, soak the area in warm water for 15 to 20 minutes 2 times a day, until the wound closes.

Skin abscess: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of worsening infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the infected skin.
    • Pus draining from the wound.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.