Skin abscess

Alternative names
Abscess - skin; Cutaneous abscess; Subcutaneous abscess

A skin abscess is a collection of pus and infected material in or on the skin.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Skin abscesses are fairly common. They are caused when an infection causes pus and infected material to collect in the skin. Skin abscesses may follow a bacterial infection, commonly an infection with staphylococcus. They can develop after a minor wound, injury, or as a complication of folliculitis or boils. Skin abscesses may occur anywhere on the body. They affect people of all ages.

The abscess can prevent deeper tissues from functioning properly. The infection may spread locally or throughout the body. The spread of infection through the bloodstream may cause severe complications.


  • Skin lesion
    • Open sore or closed, domed nodule      
    • Reddened      
    • May drain fluid
  • Localized swelling, induration

  • Affected area is tender and warm to touch

  • In some cases, fever or chills may occur

Signs and tests
Your doctor can diagnose the condition based on the appearance of the area. A culture or examination of any drainage from the lesion may help identify what organism is causing it.


The goal of treatment is to cure the infection. The doctor may cut and drain the abscess to clean the area and control the infection. Antibiotics such as dicloxacillin are given to control the infection.

Heat (such as warm compresses) may speed healing, reduce inflammation, and make the area feel better. Elevate the affected part to reduce swelling and inflammation.

Expectations (prognosis)
Most skin abscesses can be cured with proper treatment.


  • Spread of infection around the same area
  • Prevention of the proper functioning of nearby tissues
  • Gangrene (tissue death)
  • Spread of infection through the bloodstream, causing:
    • Endocarditis      
    • Osteomyelitis      
    • Multiple new abscesses (“seeding” of infection)      
    • Abscess formation on the joints, pleura, or other locations

Calling your health care provider
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if any signs of skin infection occur - including fever, pain, redness, swelling, or drainage of any kind.

Also call for an appointment with your health care provider if new symptoms develop during or after treatment of a skin abscess.

Prevent and watch for bacterial infections. Keep the skin around minor wounds clean and dry. Consult the health care provider if you develop signs of infection. Treat minor infections promptly.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised:

Diseases and Conditions Center

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.