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A to Z: Abscess

May also be called: Boil; Carbuncle; Furuncle

An abscess (AB-sess) is a collection of pus that forms as part of the body's response to an infection.

More to Know

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 immune system sends 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 pus. When pus collects, sometimes it can't drain out and the area begins to hurt.

Abscesses usually are red, swollen, and warm to the touch, and they might leak fluid. They can develop on top of or under the skin, in a tooth, or deep inside the body.

abscess illustration

Some abscesses heal with simple treatment at home, but more serious cases can require a hospital stay. An abscess should be examined by a health care provider to determine the best treatment.

Keep in Mind

In general, skin abscesses will drain and heal with no long-term problems. Other abscesses are treated with antibiotics or a minor procedure or surgery to help drain the abscess. Good hygiene can help prevent skin and tooth abscesses.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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