Skin abscesses are pus-filled pockets that develop just under the skin as a result of infection due to bacteria, injury, or infected hair follicles or nearby tissue. Many abscesses will drain and heal on their own or after home-care treatment, such as the application of warm compresses; however, special treatment from a physician may be required. Complications arising from skin abscesses can become serious, so it is important to seek prompt medical care should signs of serious infection arise.
As the skin abscess develops, it may appear as an open or closed lesion or a dome-shaped nodule (raised bump). According to St. Vincent Health, a comprehensive health-care network based in Indiana, the most common complications that arise from skin abscesses are pain, redness of the skin (erythema), swelling and warmth around the area of the abscess and swollen lymph nodes. The tissue on and around the skin abscess may harden. The pus-filled wound may also spontaneously drain or ooze fluid.
In some cases, abscesses are the result of infection with multiple types of bacteria, according to St.Vincent Health. While this infection may remain localized to the skin, in rare cases it may spread throughout the body, signifying a more extensive infection. When this occurs, people will often develop a fever or chills. If you notice either of these symptoms, contact your doctor right away.
The infection that began at the site of the skin abscess may spread to nearby tissue and throughout the body, leading to serious complications. Many new abscesses may form on the joints or other locations on the skin. Skin tissue may die as a result of the infection, leading to gangrene and possible skin loss or amputation. As the infection makes its way through the body internally, it can lead to a condition called endocarditis--an inflammation of the inside lining of the heart. Endocarditis can be fatal if not treated early, and many people will require long-term antibiotic therapy and hospitalization to treat the condition. Infection can also spread to the bone, leading to osteomyelitis--a bone infection that causes bone pain, fever, nausea, swelling of the extremities and possibly further infection that can necessitate amputation or cause reduced limb or joint function, according to the NIH.
Some people may experience a recurrence of skin abscesses after they have healed. St. Vincent Health advises that people with recurring skin abscesses should be evaluated by a doctor to rule out infection with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)--a type of bacteria that is resistant to commonly used antibiotics. MRSA infections start off as small red bumps that quickly become skin abscesses. The abscesses may then penetrate the body, causing life-threatening infection that spreads through the bloodstream and affects internal organs. The Mayo Clinic recommends seeking medical care if you notice pus, skin redness or fever, and that you ask to have the lesion tested before starting antibiotic therapy.