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Abscess (cont.)

What Are Skin Abscess Symptoms and Signs?

The symptoms of a skin abscess vary depending on the location of the abscess, but in general, individuals will experience the following:

  • A painful, compressible mass that is red, warm to the touch, and tender.
  • As an abscess progresses, it may "point" and come to a head. Pustular drainage and spontaneous rupture may occur.
  • Most abscesses will continue to worsen without care and proper incision and drainage. The infection can potentially spread to deeper tissues and even into the bloodstream.
  • If the infection spreads, fever, nausea, vomiting, increasing pain, and increasing skin redness may develop.

When Should Someone Seek Medical Care for a Skin Abscess?

A skin abscess will sometimes rupture and drain spontaneously at home without any further complications. A ruptured abscess can be a good thing because the pus is released and the body has a better chance to heal on its own. However, in some instances, further evaluation by a doctor is necessary to prevent the progression and complications associated with a continuing infection. Consult a doctor if any of the following scenarios occurs with an abscess:

  • The sore is larger than 1 cm or ½ inch across.
  • The sore fails to heal or it continues to enlarge and becomes more painful.
  • The person has an underlying illness such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, sickle cell disease, or peripheral vascular disease.
  • The person is an IV drug abuser.
  • The person is on steroid therapy, chemotherapy, other drugs that suppress the immune system, or dialysis.
  • The sore is located at the top of the buttock crease, or it is on or near the rectal or groin area.
  • The person has a fever of 100.4 F (38 C) or higher.
  • There is a concern that there is foreign material within a wound or under the skin.
  • The person is pregnant.
  • The abscess gets better but then returns.

Go to a hospital's emergency department if any of these conditions occur with an abscess:

  • Fever of 102 F (38.9 C) or higher, or vomiting, especially if the person has a chronic disease or is on steroids, chemotherapy or other immunosuppressive medications, or dialysis
  • There is a spreading red streak on the skin originating from the abscess.
  • Any facial abscess larger than 1 cm or ½ inch across
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/11/2017

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