Skin abscess

  • Definition
    • A skin abscess is a buildup of pus in or on the skin.

  • Alternative Names
    • Abscess - skin; Cutaneous abscess; Subcutaneous abscess

  • Causes
    • Skin abscesses are common and affect people of all ages. They occur when an infection causes pus to collect in the skin.

      Skin abscesses may occur after:

      • A bacterial infection (often staphylococcus)
      • A minor wound or injury
      • Boils
      • Folliculitis (infection in a hair follicle)

      A skin abscess may occur anywhere on the body.

  • Symptoms
    • Symptoms may include:

      • Fever or chills, in some cases
      • Local swelling around the infected spot
      • Hardened skin tissue
      • Skin lesion that may be an open or closed sore, or a raised area
      • Redness, tenderness, and warmth in the area
      • Fluid drainage
  • Exams and Tests
    • Your health care provider can diagnose the problem by looking at the affected area. The drainage from the sore may be sent to the lab for a culture. This can help identify the cause of the infection.


  • Treatment
    • You can apply moist heat (such as warm compresses) to help the abscess drain and heal faster. DO NOT push and squeeze on the abscess.

      Your health care provider may cut open the abscess and drain it. If this is done:

      • Numbing medicine will be put on your skin.
      • Packing material may be left in the wound to help it heal.

      You may need to take antibiotics by mouth to control the infection.

  • Outlook (Prognosis)
    • Most skin abscesses can be cured with proper treatment. Infections caused by methicillin-resistant staph aureus (MRSA) respond to specific antibiotics.

  • Possible Complications
    • Complications that can occur from an abscess include:

      • Spread of the infection in the same area
      • Spread of the infection into the blood and throughout the body
      • Tissue death (gangrene)
  • When to Contact a Medical Professional
    • Call your health care provider if you have any signs of skin infection, including:

      • Drainage of any kind
      • Fever
      • Pain
      • Redness
      • Swelling

      Talk to your health care provider if you develop new symptoms during or after treatment of a skin abscess.

  • Prevention
    • Keep the skin around minor wounds clean and dry to prevent infection. Call your health care provider if you notice signs of infection. Take care of minor infections promptly.

  • References
    • Daum RS. Staphylococcus aureus. In: Long SS, ed. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 115.

      Pasternack MS, Swartz MN. Cellulitis, necrotizing fasciitis, and subcutaneous tissue infections. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 90.