Published by Bupa's Health Information Team, August 2011.
This section contains answers to common questions about this topic. Questions have been suggested by health professionals, website feedback and requests via email.
There are a number of things you can do to prevent a skin abscess from coming back.
Skin abscesses are often caused by bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. The bacteria can enter the skin through a small scratch or a hair follicle. It's also common for the bacteria to grow in the nose.
There are reasons why you're more likely to develop a skin abscess. These include:
See your GP if you have skin abscesses that keep coming back. He or she may take a sample of pus using a swab. This will be sent to a laboratory and the bacteria will be identified. Your GP may recommend that you use an antiseptic wash to clean the areas on your body where the bacteria tend to survive including your armpits, groin and scalp. You can also add an antiseptic to your bath. Wash your clothing frequently in hot water. Keep your hands clean and don't pick any sores on your skin.
Your GP may recommend that you take antibiotics for several months. If you have bacteria in your nose, your GP may also prescribe an antibiotic or antiseptic for you to apply to the inside of your nose.
You may other skin conditions that look like an abscess but have different underlying causes and treatments.
There are a number of skin conditions that may be confused with skin abscesses. Some of these are described here. See your GP if you have any of the symptoms. He or she will be able to diagnose the problem and recommend appropriate treatment.
A carbuncle is a cluster of small abscesses that are deeper below the skin than a skin abscess. It's often swollen and tender and there is likely to be inflammation in the skin around the carbuncle. Carbuncles are commonly found on the back of the shoulders, thighs, hips and neck. There are often several openings that drain pus. If the carbuncle is large, it can cause you to feel tired, sick and have a fever. Treatment for carbuncles is similar to that for skin abscesses.
If you have severe (cystic) acne, it’s usually found only on the face and upper body. The spots are larger than in common acne and may be inflamed, giving the appearance of small abscesses.
You may notice round, raised lumps just under your skin. These could be epidermoid cysts that contain a fluid or semi-fluid substance. The cyst may become inflamed and tender and produce pus. Similar to skin abscesses, these can be cut into and removed under local anaesthesia.
You may have an infection of the hair follicles that are found at the base of hairs. This is called folliculitis. The infection develops into small, inflamed, raised spots, which may or may not contain pus. You can develop this infection anywhere on the body where there is hair.
Hidradenitis suppurativa is long-term inflammation of the sweat glands that causes painful, inflamed nodules and abscesses that don’t often contain bacteria. If you have inflammation in your armpits and groin only, this could be the cause. This is most common in people who are overweight and who smoke.
Scars are likely to form if your abscess has been cut and drained by a doctor or if it drained on its own. If the abscess is small, the cut required will be smaller so it’s better to seek treatment earlier.
Scarring fades usually fades over several months, but it may take several years. Some people are prone to more pronounced scars (hypertrophic or keloid scars). The type of cut used may make a difference to the eventual scar.
Camouflage creams can be used to improve the appearance of your scarring. The waterproof camouflage creams last for about two to three days on the body. The creams blend to your skin colour to make your scars less noticeable. Skin camouflage can help to improve your confidence and self-esteem.
If you're interested in skin camouflage, speak to your GP. He or she can give you more information about organisations that can offer you help and advice, such as the British Association of Skin Camouflage, or the Red Cross skin camouflage service.
If you wish to remove your scars completely, plastic surgery may be an option. The cut from your skin abscess drainage should be completely healed before this is considered. Speak to your GP for more information.
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For sources and links to further information, see Resources.
This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.
Publication date: August 2011
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