Skin Abscess

What is a Skin Abscess?

A skin abscess is a bump that appears within or below the skin’s surface — similar to a pimple, but typically larger and deeper under the skin. A skin abscess is usually full of pus, is painful to the touch, and the skin surrounding it may feel thick and swollen.

It’s typically due to a bacterial infection.

A skin abscess may appear on any part of your body. However, abscesses most commonly develop on the:

  • back
  • face
  • chest
  • lower abdomen
  • buttocks

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The clinical term for a skin abscess is a cutaneous abscess.

When it comes to skin abscesses, a few common types are:

  • boils, which are painful bumps or nodules
  • furuncles, which are usually due to an infected hair follicle, are filled with pus, and can spread to the surrounding tissue
  • carbuncles, which are clusters of furuncles

In rare cases, an abscess can also form internally.

A few types of internal abscesses include:

  • abdominal abscesses
  • brain abscesses
  • tooth abscesses
  • spinal cord abscesses

Identifying a skin abscess

A skin abscess often appears as a bump on your skin, similar to a pimple.

However, it can grow over time and become red and painful. The area on top of an abscess is usually inflamed, with the center of it feeling soft or “squishy.” The skin around the abscess may also be warm to the touch.

Depending on the cause of the abscess, other symptoms may also be present. These symptoms may include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • swelling
  • fluid drainage from the abscess

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Once you’ve made an appointment with your doctor, they will review your medical history and perform a physical examination to visually inspect the abscess.

A complete physical examination is the best way for your doctor to tell if an injury or ingrown hair is the cause of the abscess.

They will also most likely ask you about any associated symptoms, such as a fever.

Even if you’re not certain you have an abscess, it’s important to bring it up with your doctor, as an untreated abscess can lead to serious complications and can become life threatening.


Your doctor may take a culture or a small amount of fluid or pus from the abscess to test for the presence of bacteria. No other testing methods are necessary to diagnose an abscess.

However, your doctor may decide to do a blood test to rule out the possibility of sepsis.