What Is An Abscess?

Abscess is a tender (pain on pressure) mass, generally with a surrounding, which may vary from pink to deep red. Abscess is collection of pus and pus is collection of dead neutrophils. Inflammatory response of body to infection (by bacteria or parasite) or foreign body (such as injection, splinter etc.) results in accumulation of pus. Abscess formation is actually a defense mechanism of body to prevent infection (infectious material) from spreading to other parts of the body and arrest it locally.

Common sites of abscess formation are skin, lungs, teeth, tonsils, kidneys, brain, liver etc. Some abscesses are potentially dangerous, such as deep neck abscess, which may compress the trachea.

Abscess rarely heal by themselves and need immediate medical intervention for successful treatment at the earliest suspicion of abscess.

What are synonyms or related terms of abscess?

Synonyms are boils, carbuncles, furuncles, pustules whiteheads etc. Empyema is a related term, which should be differentiated form abscess. Empyema is accumulation of pus in a pre-existing or newly formed anatomical body cavity (such as lung).

How an abscess is formed?

Infectious materials (organisms) or foreign body kills cells at the site of infection or impaction of foreign body or splinter, which cause release of cytokines from the dead cells. The released cytokines cause an inflammatory response, which increase blood flow and attract white blood cells (mainly neutrophils). The while blood cells may die while fighting the infection. Due to presence of white blood cells, pus is usually white in color. The wall (or capsule) of the abscess is formed by adjoining healthy cells to prevent infection from spreading to neighboring tissues. However, presence of wall or capsule has disadvantage too. The abscess wall prevents the immune cells from attacking the bacteria in the pus and antibiotics from reaching the pus in abscess.

What are the signs and symptoms of abscess?

Abscess is formed a response to inflammation and inflammation has five cardinal signs such as redness, pain, heat, swelling and loss of function.

  • Abscess is painful and tender.
  • Color may be pink to red and warm to touch.
  • Abscess is a swelling and some may have a point that may rupture spontaneously.
  • If infection spreads to deeper tissues, there may be fever. Fever also develops as a result of spread of infection into bloodstream.

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