Abscess Treatment (Child)

An abscess is an area of skin where bacteria have caused fluid (pus) to form. Bacteria normally live on the skin and don’t cause harm. But sometimes bacteria enter the skin through a hair root, or cut or scrape in the skin. If bacteria become trapped under the skin, an abscess can form. An abscess can be caused by an ingrown hair, puncture wound, or insect bite. It can also be caused by a blocked oil gland, pimple, or cyst. Abscesses often occur on skin that is hairy or exposed to friction and sweat. An abscess near a hair root is called a boil.

At first, an abscess is red, raised, firm, and sore to the touch. The area can also feel warm. Then the area will collect pus.

A baby with an abscess may need to stay in the hospital overnight. A small or new abscess is first treated with an antibiotic cream or ointment. Or the child may take antibiotics by mouth.

The abscess may open on its own and drain. If the abscess gets bigger, it will be cut and the pus drained out. This is known as incision and drainage, or I and D. It's also sometimes called lancing. This can be done in a healthcare provider’s office using local anesthesia. The abscess will likely drain for several days before it dries up. It can take several weeks to heal.

Home care

Your child's healthcare provider may prescribe an oral or topical antibiotic for your child. He or she may also prescribe a pain medicine. Follow all instructions when using these medicines on your child. Report any side effects to your child's healthcare provider.

General care

  • Keep the area covered with a nonstick gauze bandage, as instructed.

  • Don’t cut, pop, or squeeze the abscess. This can be very painful and can spread infection.

  • Apply warm, moist compresses to the abscess for 20 minutes up to 3 times daily, as advised by the healthcare provider. This can help the abscess become soft and form a head of pus. It may drain on its own.

  • If the abscess drains, cover the area with a nonstick gauze bandage. Use as little tape as possible to avoid irritating your child’s skin. Then call your healthcare provider and follow all instructions. An abscess may drain for several days. It will need to stay covered. Throw away all soiled bandages with care.

  • Be careful to prevent the infection from spreading. Wash your hands before and after caring for your child. Wash in hot water any clothes, bedding, cloth diapers, and towels that come into contact with the pus. Don’t let other family members share unwashed clothes, bedding, or towels.

  • Have your child wear clean clothes daily. If your baby's abscess in on the buttocks, carefully throw away wipes and disposable diapers.

  • Change the bandage if you see pus in it. Wash the area gently with soap and warm water or as instructed by the healthcare provider. Gently remove any adhesive that sticks to the skin. Do this with mineral oil or petroleum jelly on a cotton ball. Carefully discard all soiled bandages and cotton balls.

  • Don’t have your child sit in bath water. This can spread the infection. Have your child take a shower instead of a bath while gently washing the area with soap and warm water.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as advised. Your provider may want to see the abscess once it becomes soft and forms a head of pus. Call your provider if it starts to drain on its own.

Special note to parents

Take care to prevent the infection from spreading. Wash your hands with soap and clean running water before and after caring for the abscess. Make sure your child or other family members don't touch the abscess. Contact your healthcare provider if other family members have symptoms.

When to seek medical advice

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your child's healthcare provider.

  • Increase in the size of the abscess

  • Return of the abscess

  • Redness and swelling gets worse

  • Pain that doesn’t go away, or gets worse. In babies, pain may show up as fussing that can’t be soothed.

  • Foul-smelling fluid leaking from the area

  • Red streaks in the skin around the area

  • Reaction to the medicine

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