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An abscess is a tender mass that is often surrounded by an area of pink or red and is filled with pus. Abscesses can be painful and warm to the touch and can appear on any area of the body.  These masses most commonly appear in the armpits, at the base of the spine, in the groin, around the anus or vagina, and even around a tooth (known as a dental abscess). Inflammation around a hair follicle can also cause an abscess called a boil.

What Causes An Abscess?

Abscesses form when oil glands or sweat glands are obstructed, hair follicles are inflamed, or bacteria enters these glands through a minor break in the skin. The body will then create an inflammatory response in order to combat these germs. The middle of the abscess will liquefy, and begin to grow, which can cause further inflammation and tension under the skin, causing pain.

Individuals with certain conditions are more prone to get abscesses than others. These include those with a weakened immune system, or those who have poor hygiene or certain skin infections.

Treatment For An Abscess

You can generally treat small boils at home by applying warm compresses to relieve pain and promote natural drainage.

For abscesses, treatment may include:

  • Incision and drainage. Your doctor may drain an abscess by making an incision in it. Deep infections that can't be completely drained may be packed with sterile gauze to help soak up and remove additional pus.

  • Antibiotics. Sometimes your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help heal severe or recurrent infections.


In the occurrence of a fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, a red streak leading from the abscess to the lymph nodes, chest, or legs, or any facial abscess that is larger than 1 cm across, individuals should visit a hospital’s emergency room as soon as possible.

For small boils, these measures may help the infection heal more quickly and prevent it from spreading:

  • Warm compresses. Apply a warm washcloth or compress to the affected area several times a day, for about 10 minutes each time. This helps the boil rupture and drain more quickly.

  • Never squeeze or lance a boil yourself. This can spread the infection.


Prevent contamination. Wash your hands thoroughly after treating a boil. Also, launder clothing, towels or compresses that have touched the infected area, especially if you have recurrent infections.

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