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Skin Abscess: How to Care for Your Child

A skin abscess is a collection of pus under the skin. Some abscesses drain on their own. Others need to be drained. Kids with a skin abscess usually feel better soon after the pus drains. If the abscess area is painful, you can do things at home to make your child more comfortable.

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  • Don't let your child touch or squeeze the abscess area.

  • Follow the instructions for cleaning and bandaging the abscess. 

  • Prevent the spread of the germs from the abscess:

    • Keep the abscess covered with a bandage.

    • Wear gloves or wash your hands before and after caring for the abscess.

    • Don't let your child share washcloths, sheets, towels, clothing, or razors.

    • Wash your child's clothing, sheets, and towels in hot water. 

  • If the abscess has not drained or needs to drain more, using a warm compress may help:

    • Make the compress warm by wetting a washcloth with warm (not hot) water.

    • Place the compress on the abscess for several minutes a few times a day.

  • If the health care provider prescribed an antibiotic, be sure your child takes all the doses as directed, even if feeling better. This is the best way to kill the harmful germs.

  • You can give medicine for pain if your health care provider says it's OK. Use these medicines exactly as directed:

    • acetaminophen (such as Tylenol® or a store brand)

    • OR

    • ibuprofen (such as Advil®, Motrin®, or a store brand). Do not give to babies under 6 months old.

  • Schedule any follow-up appointments as recommended.

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Your child:

  • has redness, swelling, or pain around the abscess that gets worse

  • seems to be feeling worse

  • has a new fever or a fever that lasts longer than 48 hours

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  • Red streaks begin to appear around the abscess.

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How does an abscess happen? An abscess happens when bacteria (germs) get into the skin through a cut or scrape and cause an infection. Usually the infection is caused by a type of staph bacteria. Staph aureus and MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staph aureus) are the most common bacteria that cause abscesses.

Does a child with an abscess always need an antibiotic? No, not all children need antibiotics. Some abscesses get better when the pus drains. If your child needs an antibiotic, the health care provider will choose one that treats the specific bacteria.

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