Abscesses form after bacteria, fungi, or other germs enter the body — usually through an open wound like a cut — and cause an infection. When this happens, the body's immune system is activated and sends out white blood cells to fight the infection. It's these white blood cells, along with other debris, that can collect in the wound and make up the pus. When pus collects, it may not be able to drain out, and the area begins to hurt.
Kids are prone to abscesses because they're less likely to clean and care for their cuts and other wounds, thus making them prime candidates for these types of infections. Foreign objects that get inside a wound, like sand or clothing fibers, also can lead to abscesses, as can irritated hair follicles.
Abscesses usually are red, swollen, and warm to the touch, and might leak fluid. They can develop on top of the skin, under the skin, in a tooth, or even deep inside the body. On top of the skin, an abscess might look like an unhealed wound or a pimple; underneath the skin, it may create a swollen bump. The area can be painful and tender.
In the most severe cases, the infection can cause fever and chills.
Make sure your child avoids touching, pushing, popping, or squeezing the abscess because that can spread the infection or push it deeper inside the body, making things worse. Prevent the spread of infection by not allowing your child to share clothes, towels, washcloths, sheets, or anything else that may have touched the abscess.
To help the abscess open up and drain, try applying a warm compress. You can make a compress by wetting a washcloth with warm (not hot) water and placing it over the abscess for several minutes. Do this a few times a day. Always wash your hands before and after touching the abscess.
If the abscess opens on its own and drains, and the infection seems to clear up in a couple of days, your child should be OK. But if it doesn't heal, make an appointment with your doctor.
Call your doctor if:
The doctor will examine the abscess to see if it needs to be drained. If it does, this will be done by making a small cut in the abscess that lets the pus seep out. Medicine is given beforehand to numb the area. Then, gauze might be applied to absorb the fluid in the wound and help the area heal. If your child has this procedure, make sure to follow instructions about the cleaning and bandaging of the wound.
The doctor may prescribe antibiotic liquid or pills to treat the infection. If so, be sure your child takes all the medicine until it's gone — even if he or she starts feeling better.
Call the doctor if the wound doesn't begin to heal after a few days, or if it comes back.
Some skin infections are caused by MRSA bacteria. This germ is difficult to treat and MRSA infections can be life-threatening. The good news is that MRSA infections are rare. However, your doctor will keep MRSA in mind while treating a skin abscess, especially if it doesn't heal properly.
Good hygiene is the best way to avoid infection. Keep all cuts and wounds clean, dry, and covered with a bandage to protect from germs.
Teach kids to wash their hands often and well, using soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren't handy, it's OK to use alcohol-based instant hand sanitizers or wipes.
Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: March 2015
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.|
|American Academy of Dermatology Provides up-to-date information on the treatment and management of disorders of the skin, hair, and nails.|
|A to Z: Pilonidal Cyst Learn more about skin infections, cysts, and abscesses.|
|Hand Washing Did you know that the most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands? If you don't wash your hands frequently, you can pick up germs from other sources and then infect yourself.|
|Cellulitis Cellulitis is a skin infection that involves areas of tissue just below the skin's surface. It can affect any part of the body, but it's most common on exposed areas, such as the face, arms, or lower legs.|
|Paronychia Paronychia is an infection of the skin around a fingernail or toenail. Most of the time, it's not serious and can be treated at home. Learn what causes it, what to do, and how to prevent it.|
|A to Z: Abscess, Periapical Learn about complications of infections and conditions that affect the teeth, gums, and mouth.|
|Wound Healing and Care How well a wound heals depends on where it is on the body and what caused it – as well as how well someone cares for the wound at home. Find out what to do in this article for teens.|
|Cuts, Scratches, and Scrapes Most small cuts, scrapes, or abrasions heal on their own. Here are tips for teens on how to treat cuts at home - and when to get medical help.|
|Why Is Hand Washing So Important? Did you know that proper hand washing is the best way to keep from getting sick? Here's how to teach this all-important habit to your kids.|
|Why Should I Care About Germs? Germs are tiny organisms that can cause disease - and they're so small that they can creep into your system without you noticing. Find out how to protect yourself.|
|Dealing With Cuts and Wounds Most cuts can be safely treated at home, but deep cuts and certain other injuries require medical treatment. Find out what to do by reading this printable instruction sheet.|
|Wound Drainage Culture Doctors order wound drainage cultures when they suspect wounds are infected.|
|A to Z: Retropharyngeal Abscess Retropharyngeal abscess is an area of infected, pus-filled tissue that forms in the deep tissues in the back of the throat.|
|Why Do I Need to Wash My Hands? Washing your hands is the best way to stop germs from spreading. Learn all about the best way to wash your hands in this article for kids.|
|First Aid: Skin Infections Skin infections are common during childhood. Here's what to do if your child has a skin infection.|
|Checking Out Cuts, Scratches, and Abrasions If you're wearing a bandage right now, chances are you have a cut, scratch, or abrasion. Find out more about them in this article for kids.|
|Cellulitis Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and underlying tissues that can affect any area of the body. It begins in an area of broken skin, like a cut or scratch.|
|Peritonsillar Abscess A peritonsillar abscess is an area of pus-filled tissue at the back of the mouth, next to one of the tonsils. Find out how it happens and what to do.|
|Peritonsillar Abscess Older kids and teens with tonsilitis sometimes develop this painful abscess, a pus-filled tissue at the back of the mouth.|
|Abscess An abscess is a pocket of pus that forms in the body. Find out how to spot a skin abscess and when to call the doctor.|
|MRSA MRSA is a type of bacteria that the usual antibiotics can't tackle anymore. Simple precautions can help protect your kids from becoming infected.|
|Paronychia Paronychia is an infection of the skin around a fingernail or toenail. Most of the time, it's not serious. Find out what causes it, what to do, and how to prevent it.|
|Abscess People can get abscesses on the skin, under the skin, in a tooth, or even inside the body. Most abscesses are caused by infection, so it can help to know what to do. Find out in this article for teens.|
|MRSA MRSA is a type of bacteria that the usual antibiotics can't tackle anymore. The good news is that there are some simple ways to protect yourself from being infected. Find out how.|
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