What is boil or abscess?
A boil or abscess is a collection of pus, usually caused by a bacterial infection. It can develop anywhere in the body and is often quite painful. They appear as swollen, pus-filled lump under the skin surface.
Most commonly a boil or abscess develops in areas of the skin where there’s a combination of hair, sweat and friction, such as the neck, face and thighs. Boils eventually burst draining the pus, without causing any scarring.
Boils and abscesses are most common in teenagers and young adults. Milder cases are usually left untreated, while antibiotics are prescribed for more severe cases.
Boils and abscesses differ in their nature and appearance, depending on where it develops on the body.
Most common symptoms include;
- Smooth swelling under the skin that feels firm to touch
- Pain and tenderness
- Warmth and redness
- Visible build up of white or yellow pus under the skin
- High temperatures
When foreign microorganisms enter the body, the immune system sends white blood cells to fight the infection. It causes inflammation at the site of infection and the death of nearby tissue, creating a cavity, which fills with puss and forms an abscess. They contain a mixture of dead tissue, white blood cells and bacteria.
Most boils and abscesses are caused by bacterial infections, Staphylococcal and Streptococcal bacteria, and occasionally due to an infection by viruses, fungi or parasites.
The GP can diagnose a boil or abscess by examining the affected area in conjunction with other symptoms experienced.
A sample of pus may be taken and sent for testing, which allows for specific bacteria to be identified.
A urine sample may be asked for to test for glucose and signs of diabetes, which indicate a higher risk of developing abscesses.
Treatment options for boils and abscesses depends on its type and size.
Most of them drain naturally and get better without needing treatment. However, for larger and more persistent ones, a course of antibiotics, such as Flucloxacillin, can help clear the infection and prevent it from spreading further.