An abscess is an infected area that sometimes forms when your body is trying to
fight germs. White blood cells
from your immune system go wherever the
germs are hiding.
The abscess forms as your body is trying to get rid of an infection. But then the
abscess (say: AB-sess) becomes part of the problem because it's an area of infected
tissue that contains pus.
What's pus? Often it's a white or yellow goopy substance. It contains
the germs, fluids, and cells the body has shed — basically anything that
the body wants to get rid of.
Abscesses can form on the skin, under the skin, in a tooth, or inside the body.
Some people feel sick when they have an abscess. They might get a fever
that makes them feel too hot or too cold.
What If I Have an Abscess?
Unlike abscesses inside the body, you can see an abscess on your skin. A skin abscess
may look like a red, swollen bump — a large pimple that might be tender if you
touch it. An abscess can happen after an injury, like a cut, scrape,
or insect bite.
Tell a grownup if you think you have a skin abscess. Make sure you don't touch
or squeeze the abscess because that could make it worse.
With a grownup's help, you might want to put a warm washcloth on the area. Sometimes,
that can help the abscess open up and drain. What's in there? A gooey fluid called
pus that contains germ-fighting cells.
Use warm — not hot — water to warm up the washcloth or compress. Keep
the compress on the area for several minutes. Do this a few times a day.
Abscesses contain germs, so wash your hands before or after touching one —
or the pus that comes out of it.
When to Call the Doctor
If the skin abscess opens on its own and drains, and the infection seems to clear
up in a couple of days, your skin should heal on its own. If it doesn't, it's time
for your mom or dad to call your doctor's office. If you go to the doctor, he or she
will probably prescribe a type of medicine called antibiotics. They help your body
kill the germs that are causing the abscess.
Sometimes the doctor will want to drain the abscess to let all the pus and germs
out. This will allow the abscess to heal. The doctor might put gauze into the wound
to soak up the drainage and help the abscess heal. Gauze is a bit like the white pad
on a bandage that rests against a cut or scrape.
Make sure to follow your doctor's instructions about how to take care of the abscess
when you go home. And be sure to tell an adult if you don't feel better or the abscess
gets worse. Ask your parents for your own washcloth and towels so you don't spread
germs to other people.
How Can I Avoid Getting a Skin Abscess?
You can help prevent skin infections by being extra careful when you get a cut
or scrape. Keep it clean and dry, and cover it with a bandage, if necessary. That
helps keep germs out so the cut can heal.
Regular hand washing (before you
eat or prepare food and after using the bathroom) is another germ-fighting step to
take all the time, whether you have a cut or not.