A skin abscess, or boil, is a build-up of pus in the skin. It usually makes the skin look red and swollen, and it feels warm and tender to touch. If your child has an abscess that doesn’t burst and drain by itself, you should take your child to see your GP.
Causes of abscesses or boils
A skin abscess is caused by infection. It’s usually an infection by bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus, which can invade the skin.
The body tries to stop the infection from spreading, so it collects the bacteria, white blood cells and dead tissue in one spot. This is the abscess.
Children might get an abscess if they have broken skin, like an abrasion.
Children with medical conditions like diabetes and obesity and children who have low immunity after a transplant are more likely to get an abscess. But this isn’t common.
Symptoms of an abscess or a boil
Abscesses most often come up on the face, throat, armpits, groin and buttocks. But they can develop in any part of the body.
At first, you might notice a tender, pink lump. Over the next few days, the lump might get larger, redder and more painful. Pus starts to build up.
After several days, the abscess comes to a head. It will either burst naturally or need to be lanced and drained by your GP under sterile conditions. After the abscess has opened, it won’t be as painful and should start to heal quickly.
Sometimes your child might get tender and swollen lymph glands near the abscess. She might get a fever too.
When to see your doctor about an abscess or a boil
You should always get a GP to lance or drain an abscess if it doesn’t burst naturally.
Squeezing the abscess at home can be extremely painful for your child. It can also spread infection to other parts of the body, including the bloodstream.
Your GP will also take a swab of the pus to try to work out what germ has caused it.
If your child gets a fever, you should see your GP or go to a hospital emergency department. A fever can be a sign of a serious bloodstream infection.
If your child keeps getting abscesses, or gets scars after an abscess, this could be a sign of an underlying skin condition. It’s a good idea to talk to your GP about a referral to a dermatologist if this happens.
Treatment for abscesses or boils
Your GP might prescribe antibiotics, depending on the severity of the abscess and the swab results, or if the GP thinks bacteria might have spread into your child’s bloodstream.
If you or your child touches the abscess, make sure to wash your hands. The pus in an abscess is infectious.
While the abscess is healing, get your child to rest. Also try to stop anything rubbing against the abscess. Pain medication like paracetamol might help your child to feel more comfortable.