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What Causes a Skin Abscess?
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Skin abscesses are typically caused by either an inflammatory reaction to an infectious process (bacteria or parasite) or, less commonly, to a foreign substance within the body (a needle or a splinter, for example). Abscesses may develop because of obstructed oil (sebaceous) or sweat glands, inflammation of hair follicles on the body or scalp, or from minor breaks and punctures of the skin. Abscesses may also develop after a surgical procedure.
The infectious organisms or foreign material cause an inflammatory response in the body, which triggers the body's immune system to form a cavity or capsule to contain the infection and prevent it from spreading to other parts of the body. The interior of the abscess liquefies, and pus develops (which contains dead cells, proteins, bacteria, and other debris). This area then begins to expand, creating increasing tension and inflammation of the overlying skin.
The most common bacterial organism responsible for the development of skin abscesses is Staphylococcus aureus, although various other organisms can also lead to abscess formation. With the emergence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), health care providers must now consider this organism as the possible cause when a skin abscess is encountered.
A major risk factor for developing skin abscesses includes a weakened immune system (either from chronic diseases or from medications), because the body's ability to fight infection is decreased. The following conditions are risk factors for developing abscesses and for getting recurrent or multiple abscesses:
Last Reviewed 9/11/2017
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