An abscess is defined as a collection of pus that has collected in an area where a bacterial infection has occurred. Whenever the body is injured or an infection develops, the body fights this off by generating a cellular response. The defensive cells gather and form a cavity to prevent the infection from spreading. The defensive cells essential build up a wall which circles the infection.
Over time the walls close in on the infection and form a cavity. The adjacent tissues around the abscess cavity are normal and form a barrier to prevent the spread of infection. After a time, the bacteria and tissue in the cyst liquefy and form pus. As the bacteria grow inside the cyst, the cyst can get larger and become tense. When it reaches a certain size, it can rupture into the adjacent tissues.
An individual with an abscess will generally present with:
- redness near the site
- discharge of pus
- inability to use the body part
Abscess can occur anywhere on the body and in any tissue. They are however most common on the skin. Small superficial abscess on the skin are often referred to as boils.
The problem with abscess is that they can rupture. When the abscess ruptures inside the body, it can lead to spread of infection to other organs.
The majority of abscess need some type of treatment:
Because abscess is generally caused by bacteria, antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment. Sometimes the abscess cavity is thick and the antibiotics are unable to penetrate the cavity. In such cases, the abscess can be surgically opened with a knife. Surgical drainage of abscess is more successful when the abscess cavity is localized and mature. Most skin abscess can be drained under local anesthesia in a doctor's office.
Abscess inside the body may be drained by surgery or using radiological techniques like CT scan. Under CT scan, the abscess cavity can be localized and a small plastic tube placed to drain the abscess.