An abscess can develop due to different reasons. Although not a disease in itself, the condition is usually a symptom of a problem or disorder. Knowing more about the causes, risks and effects will be helpful in finding a suitable solution. If the abscess is left untreated, the condition might get worse due to the growing infection. There are several ways to prevent and treat the formation. These are present in different forms and sizes, depending on the injury and damage. Here is a brief overview and what you should do with one.
About an Abscess
An abscess is described as a tender mass that can develop in any part of the body. It can vary in color such as pink, red, green, yellow or white depending on the contents. People can easily discover the presence by merely touching the formation or lump. Others will notice it even when on hard-to-see areas or when located beneath the skin because of the warm sensation. Some abscesses are also painful especially when touched. The center part of the formation usually contains pus, blood and other debris. Different regions of the body can have the formation such as the back, extremities, the genitals, the armpits, the gums and on areas where hair grows.
The abscess will form if sebaceous or sweat glands become blocked and inflamed. Small punctures, breaks and follicles on the skin that are obstructed can also turn into the unusual formation. It is considered as an inflammatory response by the body particularly when germs, infection and other invading microorganisms are detected.
The development is intended to boost the protection in the infected area as the antibodies try to eliminate the bacteria and germs within the system. The center of the formation usually contains pus or dead bacteria and cells, after these have been eradicated by the immune system. As more cells and dead bacteria accumulate in the area, the lump will grow until the external layer stretches, causing discomfort, inflammation and pain.
Some individuals may notice that they develop an abscess more frequently than others. This is because they have weaker immune responses, so the body needs to compensate accordingly, thereby creating the space to trap and eliminate germs and bacteria. Some individuals are particularly at risk for the development if they have underlying conditions like cancer, AIDS, diabetes, leukemia, sickle cell disease, Crohn’s disease, severe trauma, burn injuries, peripheral vascular problems and ulcerative colitis.
Some people who have certain conditions or are undergoing treatment might also be at risk such as those getting treated with chemotherapy or chronic steroid therapy. Alcoholism and IV drug abuse are also risk factors. People should maintain cleanliness at all times to avoid infection and abscess development. Wounds should be treated properly to prevent infection.
Causes and Types
The abscess will form as soon as the tissue gets infected and the immune system automatically attempts to fight the infection. The tissue will become inflamed as white blood cells that are responsible for getting rid of germs and other harmful microorganisms rush to the injury site or infection site.
The dead bacteria and cells will accumulate in the area, thereby creating pus. As more dead white blood cells, tissues and bacteria form in the area, an abscess will also build up. Some areas are more prone to the unusual formation because these are the usual infection sites like the gums, extremities and buttocks. The condition can also form inside the body or on the vital organs.
Some of the known types include abdominal abscess, tooth, skin, anorectal, amebic liver, brain, spinal cord, pyogenic liver, subcutaneous, pyogenic, Bartholin’s abscess and epidural abscess. The name is generally derived from the specific site where the formation is located.
Signs and Symptoms of Abscess
The most basic sign of abscess formation is the compressible mass. This can come in different colors. Pus-filled lumps are usually yellow, light green or white. New ones are pink or red. The bumps are usually tender, warm and painful. Some formations have a tip or point where the contents will drain if these continue to grow beyond the limits of the skin. People should immediately report the signs and symptoms to the doctor. In some cases, the doctor will advise the patient to wait until the formation has ripened and develops the point for incision and drainage. The formation can also be accompanied by other associated effects like high fever, lethargy, weakness, dizziness, nausea and vomiting.
Treating the Abscess
The most common approach to treating the abscess involves pricking the lump or bump. Small formations that measure only 1 cm or less can be drained by applying warm compress to the area 3 to 4 times a day. Each compression should last for 30 minutes. Do not drain or rupture the formation by simply pressing on it.
Patients are also discouraged from pricking the formation with a need. The infection can spread especially if you accidentally hit a deeper tissue or another blood vessel. Only doctors should prick or rupture the formation. Bigger abscesses or those that develop in clusters can be incised and drained by doctors using special sterile equipment. The area has to be thoroughly disinfected to prevent the infection from spreading or going into the blood circulation. Doctors might also apply an anesthetic depending on the size and severity of the formation.
Abscess Post-Treatment Care
Once the abscess has been completely drained, the skin and underlying tissues will take a few days to heal completely. Very big incisions will usually leave a scar and will require several days to completely heal. Individuals should rest and drink lots of fluid after the drainage. Apply wire gauze to cover the area and replace as necessary. They should also refrain from putting too much pressure on the site. Avoid engaging in contact sports and other rigorous activities until the area has completely recovered. It is possible for the same area to get infected and develop the formation again but practicing the preventive measures will help greatly.