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Skin abscess

What is a skin abscess?

A skin abscess is a collection of pus underneath the skin.

What causes a skin abscess?

Most skin abscesses are caused by an infection. Often, the infection starts when bacteria (a type of germ) gets into the skin through a cut or scrape. Different types of bacteria can cause a skin abscess. The body’s immune system (germ-fighting system) makes special cells to fight the bacteria. It is the body’s germ-fighting cells and the bacteria that make up most of the pus.

How is it diagnosed?

A skin abscess can often be diagnosed during an exam. Sometimes imaging such as an ultrasound is needed to diagnose a skin abscess.

How are skin abscesses treated?

Most children with abscesses will be given antibiotics to help kill the germs. It is important for the pus to drain out so it can heal. If your child’s abscess is already draining your child’s provider might recommend waiting to see if it heals on its own. If it is not draining or is not draining enough the provider may help drain the pus by making a small cut in the abscess.

When is surgery needed?

There are many treatments available for skin abscesses. Some abscesses, especially big abscesses, require surgery in order to drain the pus. Your health care provider will discuss what options are best for your child.

If your child needs surgery

What happens during surgery?

Your child will be asleep for the surgery. In order to drain the abscess the surgeon will make a cut over the pus-filled pocket. The pus will be drained out. The empty pocket might be filled with a clean piece of gauze to help stop the bleeding. The cut will heal on its own. If needed, you will be taught how to care for the cut.

Will my child be in pain?

An abscess can be very painful until it is drained. Most children feel much better after the abscess is drained. Your child might need some mild pain medicine for a few days after the surgery.

What can I expect after the surgery?

  • Diet: Most patients are able to eat a normal diet.
  • Activity: Your child may return to normal activities as they tolerate. Your child should not go in a pool, lake, or other body of water until the skin has completely healed. Your child can shower and/or bathe as instructed by your surgeon.
  • Wound care: Your child’s surgeon will give you specific instructions for wound care following the surgery. Here are some things you and your child can do as well:
    • Prevent the spread of germs from the skin abscess
      • Wear gloves and/or wash your hands before and after caring for the abscess
      • Keep the abscess covered with a bandage so drainage does not get on clothing
      • Don’t let your child share washcloths, sheets, towels, clothing, or razors
      • Wash your child’s clothing, sheets, and towels in a washing machine. Dry completely in a hot dryer.
    • Keep the area clean and dry. Avoid fabrics not made of cotton/wool and tight-fitting underwear.
    • Have your child bathe or shower often. Especially after activities that make them sweat. Use antibacterial or glycerin soap.
  • Medicines: Medication for pain such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Motrin® or Advil®) or something like a narcotic may be needed to help with pain for a few days after surgery. If antibiotics are prescribed it is very important that your child take all doses as directed, even if they are feeling better. This is the best way to kill the harmful germs.
  • Return to school/daycare: Your child may return to school or daycare when you feel it is appropriate.

When do I call the surgeon?

  • If your child had surgery, call if your child has:
    • Fevers over 101 °F
    • Wound redness
    • Increasing pain
    • Worsening drainage that might indicate an infection
  • Follow-up with your child’s surgeon as directed following surgery. You can call 612-813-8000 to schedule an appointment.

When do I call the primary care provider?

  • If your child did not have surgery, call if your child has:
    • Worsening redness, swelling, or pain
    • Has red streaks on the skin near the skin abscess
    • Gets a new fever, has a fever that is getting higher, or has a fever that lasts more than 48 hours


This information is not specific to your child but provides general information. If you have any questions, please call your clinic.

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This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Minnesota Family Resource Center library, or visit

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