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 inflamed hair follicles.
Abscesses are typically 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.
If your child's abscess doesn't heal with home treatment or you notice any of the following symptoms, call your doctor:
The doctor will examine the abscess to decide if it needs to be drained. This is done by making a small cut in the abscess that allows the pus to 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 regarding the cleaning and bandaging of the wound.
The doctor may prescribe antibiotics 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, a kind of bacteria that is difficult to treat and 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 properly, using soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If a sink with soap and water isn't nearby, it's OK to use alcohol-based instant hand sanitizers or wipes.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: June 2012
|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.|
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|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.|
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|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.|
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|Abscess An area of infected tissue is called an abscess. Find out how to spot a skin abscess and when to call the doctor.|
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|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. Simple precautions can help protect your kids from becoming infected.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|First Aid: Skin Infections Skin infections are common during childhood. Here's what to do if your child has a skin infection.|
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