What is an abscess?

An abscess, also called a boil, is a puss or fluid filled bump that appears on or below the surface of the skin. Abscesses can occur anywhere on the body, but most commonly develop on the back, face, chest and buttocks.

What causes an abscess?

Abscesses are typically due to a bacterial infection. The most common bacteria in skin infections being Staphylococcus. Bacterial infections occur through a break in the skin, a wound or hair follicle. Chronic skin conditions like acne and eczema as well as diseases such as diabetes and HIV. Anything that weakens the immune system, increases the risk of getting a bacterial skin infection. Poor hygiene is also a factor.

What are the symptoms of an abscess or boil?

An abscess or boil often begins as a bump on the skin, like an acne pimple. Over time the bump fills with fluid and grows, becoming infected. It may become sore, red or warm to the touch. As the infection worsens, symptoms may include fever, chills and nausea. Many boils are not serious and can be treated at home, but some may become quite serious, requiring the attention of a dermatologist or dermatology provider. Any abscess that is throbbing, swelling or spreading needs to be evaluated by a physician.

How is a boil or abscess diagnosed?

An abscess is diagnosed through examination by a dermatology provider and may require medical tests including blood tests or cultures (a sample of the fluid from the abscess) to identify the bacteria and render appropriate treatment.

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