Abscess: what it is, symptoms, causes, types and treatment

An abscess is a sac containing a collection of pus and surrounding inflamed tissue that can appear under the skin, mucous membranes or in internal organs. It is usually caused by a bacterial infection and results in symptoms such as a lump under the skin containing white or yellowish fluid, redness around the lump, pain at the site or fever.

An abscess most commonly appears on the skin, such as in the armpits, groin, anus or vagina, but it can also develop inside the body, being called an internal abscess, such as a brain abscess or abdominal abscess, for example, in which case it is more difficult to identify.

Abscess treatment should be carried out by a general practitioner, surgeon or dermatologist, who may recommend the use of hot compresses to drain the pus when the abscess is small, the use of antibiotics to eliminate the bacteria or surgical drainage if the abscess is large and causes pain and a high fever.

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Abscess symptoms

The main symptoms of an abscess are:

  • Lump under the skin, containing white or yellowish pus;
  • Pain and swelling in the affected area;
  • Redness around the abscess;
  • Increased temperature at the site;
  • High fever;
  • Chills;
  • Swollen lymph nodes near the abscess site;
  • General malaise.

Furthermore, in the case of internal abscesses, which are more difficult to identify, in addition to fever and chills, there may be increased sweat production, excessive tiredness, loss of appetite, or weight loss for no apparent reason.

Depending on its location, other symptoms related to the affected organ or region may appear, such as yellow skin and eyes, in the case of a liver abscess, difficulty breathing or coughing, in the case of a lung abscess, or toothache or loosening of the teeth, in the case of a periodontal abscess, for example.

It is important to consult a general practitioner, surgeon or dermatologist whenever symptoms of an abscess appear, so that the diagnosis can be made, the cause identified and the most appropriate treatment can be started.

How to confirm the diagnosis

The diagnosis of an abscess is made by a dermatologist, general practitioner or dentist through an assessment of symptoms, health history and recent trauma, as well as a physical examination of the affected area.

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Another test that can be performed by the doctor or dentist is a collection of pus from the abscess to be analyzed in a laboratory, allowing the type of microorganism causing the abscess to be identified.

In the case of an internal abscess, some imaging tests may be requested by the doctor, such as ultrasound, computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging, which allow for an internal evaluation of the organs and identification of the type and location of the abscess.

Main types of abscess

Abscesses can be classified into different types, depending on the region of the body affected, and include:

1. Anorectal abscess

An anorectal abscess  is caused by a bacterial infection that leads to the formation of a pus-filled cavity around the anal or rectal region, which causes pain when sitting or defecating, for example.

2. Perianal abscess

Perianal abscess, or anal abscess, is a type of anorectal abscess that affects the skin around the anus and usually occurs due to a blockage of the glands in the anus, which can become infected by bacteria, resulting in the symptoms. Learn how to identify and treat an anal abscess .

3. Periodontal abscess

A periodontal abscess, or gum abscess , is characterized by the presence of a pocket of pus in the gum near the root of the tooth and is usually caused by infections that affect the bone and tissues that support the tooth.

4. Dental abscess

A dental abscess can occur due to an untreated cavity, an injury, or poorly executed dental work, which allows bacteria to enter and affect the pulp of the tooth and the gums around the tooth. Understand what a dental abscess is and what to do .

5. Gum abscess

A gum abscess can form on the gum mucosa, without affecting the teeth, and can arise due to the accumulation of bacteria due to poor hygiene or in cases of health conditions that cause a weakened immune system, such as HIV infection or cancer, for example. Learn more about gum abscesses .

6. Axillary abscess

An axillary abscess is usually the result of folliculitis, which is inflammation of the hair root, but it can also arise due to hidradenitis suppurativa, due to inflammation of the sweat glands, which are the glands that produce sweat. Understand what hidradenitis suppurativa is .

7.  Vaginal abscess

Vaginal abscesses are caused by inflammation of the Bartholin gland, which is a gland located in the anterior region of the vagina that lubricates it. Learn how to treat inflammation of the Bartholin gland.

8. Groin abscess

An abscess in the groin usually arises due to inflammation in the hair follicle or tissues surrounding the follicle, as in the case of folliculitis, caused by bacterial infections.

9. Brain abscess

A brain abscess is rare and occurs due to the presence of bacteria in other regions of the head or in the bloodstream that reach the brain, leading to the formation of an abscess.

Treatment usually involves antibiotics and surgery to drain the abscess.

10.  Lung abscess

A lung abscess is identified through a chest X-ray and can be caused by the presence of bacteria that live in the mouth and reach the lungs.

This abscess can cause symptoms such as fatigue, loss of appetite, and fever. See other symptoms of lung abscess .

11. Liver abscess

A liver abscess affects the liver, and one or more abscesses may appear and be caused by different microorganisms, such as bacteria or fungi, due to the spread of these microorganisms through the blood or infections in the abdomen, as is the case with appendicitis, diseases associated with the biliary tract or pylephlebitis, for example.

12. Peritonsillar abscess

A peritonsillar abscess, also called a peritonsillar abscess, is a collection of pus in the area around the tonsil, caused by complications of bacterial infections.

This type of abscess can cause symptoms such as severe sore throat, difficulty swallowing, fever, voice changes and headache, for example. Check out other symptoms of peritonsillar abscess .

Possible causes

An abscess is caused by infections caused by bacteria, or even fungi or parasites, leading to the formation of pus in the area.

Some factors can increase the risk of developing abscesses, such as:

  • Diabetes, obesity or overweight;
  • Poor hygiene;
  • Diet rich in fats or consumption of alcoholic beverages;
  • Smoking habit;
  • Circulatory problems or metabolic syndrome;
  • HIV infection;
  • Use of corticosteroid medications or chemotherapy.

However, an abscess can also occur due to obstruction in glands or ingrown hairs, which is the case of folliculitis, in which there is inflammation at the root of the hair, leading to the appearance of small blisters with pus that can cause burning and itching. Find out what folliculitis is and how to treat it.

Read also: Ingrown hair: symptoms, causes, treatment (and how to remove it)tuasaude.com/ingrown-hair

How is the treatment done?

Abscess treatment should be carried out under the guidance of a general practitioner, dermatologist or dentist, and the use of antibiotics is normally recommended in order to eliminate or prevent bacterial infections.

Additionally, it may be necessary to drain the abscess, which should be done by a doctor or dentist. In more severe cases, the dentist may recommend extracting the affected tooth.

Draining the abscess at home is not recommended, as there is a greater chance of exposure to microorganisms, which can infect other areas of the skin and worsen the condition. It is also recommended not to squeeze the abscess, as this can push pus, which contains bacteria, into the tissue, worsening the infection.

Home treatment for abscess

One of the home remedies for treating an abscess is to apply a warm water compress and clean the area with neutral soap.


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