This site is a professionally written guide, designed to give you all the information you might need about abscesses. We will look at various types of abscess, based on where they occur on the body. The causes, symptoms, prevention and treatments of the problems will all be discussed.
Let’s start with a general introduction to the problem:
What are they?
What is an abscess? It is a collection of pus (a fluid made up by dead skin cells, tissues and bacteria). It is enclosed within an infected capsule. It is formed when there is an infection in a localized area (ie an area wherein the symptom is concentrated in a small area of the body, and is not a whole body infection).
An abscess can appear in any part of the body. It is usually seen in the gums, breast, buttocks, perirectal (in the rectum) and any moist areas. In addition, areas with lots of lymph nodes like the armpits and groin are also commonly affected.
Types of Abscess
There are many kinds of abscesses. There are those that appear internally an those that are on the surface, ie external.
The common sites for internal occurrences:
- Vagina – if an abscess is present in the vagina, coitus may be painful. Discharges may be present.
- Rectum – defecating is painful, and there are times when the stool is with pus.
- Liver – this may present a symptom of painful abdomen. This is diagnosed when seen in the ultrasound.
- Bladder – this is seen through a diagnostic test called cystoscopy. This is a procedure done under local or general anesthesia. A scope (usually the same size as a catheter) is inserted up into the bladder. This scope has a camera and light at the tip. It is connected to a monitor where the physician can see the whole anatomy of the bladder. He/she can also view the abscesses present.
- Respiratory - eg throat or lungs
Abscess on external parts of the body:
A skin abscess can arise anywhere on the body. On the skin, it is often referred to as a carbuncle (which is like a boil only larger) and are often staph infection in nature. Acne vulgaris and Hidradenitis suppurativa are other problems that occur on the skin.
But there are so regions that are more prone to developing problems.
- Buttocks, peri-rectal or perianal areas (often noticed by itchiness, Pruritus ani, as well as swelling).
- Breast, armpits, and the groin.
- Gums or tooth, ie a dental abscess (not external per se, but in the mouth therefore easily noticed).
- A pilonidal cyst is an infection that develops along the tailbone.
These can be seen by the naked eye, so are easier to see and diagnose. An ultrasound may be ordered to look for deeper infections.
Who Is At Risk?
There are some people that are at a higher risk for acquiring the problem. These include the following:
- Obesity – poor diet and lifestyle is a contributing factor for an infection to arise. The excess weight also puts pressure on the buttocks and lower spinal area. And with direct pressure there, a risk for acquiring pilodinal cysts (in the buttocks) is higher.
- People undergoing radiation and/or chemotherapy – radiation therapy kills not only the cancer cells, but also the normal healthy cells. This is the same for chemotherapy. The killing of healthy cells weakens the immune system. When the immune system is down, the protection from infection and other diseases is also low. Problems may occur due to a low immune system.
- Post-surgery and people with open wounds – due to the incision to the skin, muscles and fats, the wound may be infected and may allow foreign objects and bacteria to enter. This puts the person at risk for not only these, but also other diseases.
What Might Trigger It?
There are several causes that may trigger abscesses to occur:
- Poor personal hygiene and an unclean environment – pores and sweat glands may become blocked. Oil and dirt remains in the body longer when there is poor hygiene. Smoke, dust, and other air pollutants also contribute to the development of the problem.
- Low immune system – the body’s defense mechanism to fight infection is low, therefore an abscess may result. Other infections are also possible.
- Poor diet and lifestyle – a diet rich in fat and salt puts one at greater risk. A balanced diet lead to a better immune system.
- Poor skin integrity – an open wound or any break in the skin allows bacteria and other microorganisms to enter and possibly accumulate.
Signs and Symptoms of an Abscess
The signs and symptoms vary from one person to the other:
- An abscess is reddish in appearance. It is swollen, warm and painful to touch. It may also appear yellowish in the center due to the pus present inside.
- A protruding lump is noticeable.
- Pus may drain out of the infected area.
- Fever may be present.
- Due to constant pain, fatigue may occur.
What to do if you have an infection?
There are many treatment options for abscesses. There are interventions we can do at home:
- Application of warm compress not only soothes, but also increases the blood flow to the area and reduces pain.
- Sterile wound dressing – proper wound care is a must to prevent the issue from recurring. In addition, it contributes to a speedy recovery.
- Proper diet – must be based on the food pyramid, essential for the body to receive all the nutrients it needs.
- Quit bad habits like smoking and reduce alcohol intake.
Drug treatment, prescribed by your doctor, may include:
- Antipyretic and pain killers – these medications normalize the body temperature and reduce pain.
- Antibiotics – may be prescribed as capsule or ointment. This is used to kill infection brought about by the bacterial proliferation.
A follow-up check up is a must. This is for the doctor to assess your progress and to check if the medications need any adjustment. Follow the medications on schedule and perform measures to prevent the problem from recurring, such as:
- Practice good overall hygiene. Bathe daily and brush your teeth. This will prevent gum and other external abscesses.
- Proper diet – This will not only make the body receive all the nutrients, but also it will prevent internal infections from occurring.
- Quit bad habits – smoking and alcohol intake will put you at a higher risk of gum and liver abscess, amongst others.
Any infection in the body can be dangerous. A chronic abscess can lead to fistula or fissures formation, which can be harder to eradicate. Skin infections may be a sign of MRSA. Although rare, a build up of pus can spread out leading to cellulitis, endocarditis and/or septicemia (blood poisoning) and thus a serious risk to life.
NEVER ignore a problem. Seek medical advice early!!!
Use the links to the right for detailed advice on specific abscess problems and locations.
For more advice on treatment go here.
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