It is no secret that children are the most vulnerable people on the planet. Because of their youth and lack of experience, our moral responsibility as adults is to make sure that we are well-informed about various medical emergencies. We can almost expect that there will come a time when we will need to see the signs or symptoms of any minor or serious injuries that a child may experience. Of course, a medical professional will be the one who calls the final shots. However, before seeing a healthcare provider, you, as the parent, will be the one to notice if your son or daughter is experiencing something out of the ordinary. One common injury a child can endure is the development of an abscess.
What is an Abscess?
Painful and warm to the touch, abscesses can virtually show up anywhere on your body. However, the most common sites are in the armpits, areas around the anus and vagina, the base of the spine, around a tooth, and in the groin. It’s also important to note that inflammation around a hair follicle can also lead to the formation of an abscess, which is called a boil.
Unlike other infections, antibiotics alone will not usually cure an abscess. In general, an abscess must be opened and drained for it to improve. Sometimes draining occurs on its own, but generally, it must be opened with the help of a warm compress or by a doctor in a procedure called ‘Incision and Drainage.’
Sadly, kids are more prone to abscesses because they’re less likely to tend and clean their wounds, putting them at risk for these nasty infections. Foreign objects that get inside a wound, like sand or clothing fibers, can also lead to abscesses, as can irritated hair follicles.
Types of Abscesses
The first kind of abscess we’ll discuss is skin abscesses. This is when bacteria get under the surface of your skin, and an abscess forms. This can occur anywhere on the body, although skin abscesses tend to be more common in the underarms, genitals, buttocks, trunk, hands, and feet. When this happens, bacteria will creep underneath your skin and cause an abscess. If you have a minor skin wound, such as a small cut, gash, or a sebaceous gland (oil gland) or sweat gland, this can lead to an abscess as well.
Then there are internal abscesses. These develop inside of the stomach and are caused by an infection reaching tissue deeper within the body. This can occur because of an injury, abdominal surgery, or an infection spreading from a nearby wound or cut. Unfortunately, there are numerous ways an infection can spread in the abdomen and cause an abscess to develop. For example, a lung abscess may form after a bacterial infection in your lungs, such as pneumonia, and a burst appendix can spread bacteria within your abdomen. If your child is experiencing high temperature, increased sweating, chills, pain in their stomach, or loss of appetite and weight, your child may be experiencing an internal abscess.
Lastly, there are tooth abscesses. This is when a pocket of pus that’s caused by a bacterial infection poison one of your teeth. The abscess can occur in different areas near the tooth for different reasons. A periapical abscess occurs at the tip of the root. A periodontal abscess occurs in the gums at the side of a tooth root. A periapical tooth abscess usually occurs because of an untreated dental cavity, an injury, or prior dental work. The resulting infection with irritation and swelling can cause an abscess at the tip of the root. Symptoms to look out for are severe toothaches that spread to the jawbone, neck, and ear, pain with hot and cold temperatures, pain when chewing, fever, swelling in the face, tender or swollen lymph nodes, and foul mouth odor.
Traditionally, dentists will treat a tooth abscess by draining it and getting rid of the infection. They may be able to save your tooth with a root canal treatment. But in some cases, the tooth may need to be pulled. Leaving a tooth abscess untreated can lead to serious, even life-threatening, complications so make sure to take your little one to the dentist ASAP!
What Causes an Abscess?
The most common way someone may contract an abscess is from infection with staphylococcal bacteria. From there, bacteria enter the body, and the immune system sends white blood cells to fight the infection. This causes swelling at the site of infection and the death of nearby tissue. A cavity is created, which fills with pus to form an abscess. The pus contains a mixture of dead tissue, white blood cells, and bacteria. The abscess may get larger and more painful as the infection continues and more pus is produced. Some types of staphylococcal bacteria produce a toxin called Panton-Valentine leucocidin, which kills white blood cells. This causes the body to make more cells to keep fighting the infection and can lead to repeated skin infections. However, in rare cases, an abscess may be caused by a virus, fungi, or parasites.
Finally, some good news! Most abscesses can be treated at home. If the abscess is small (less than 1 cm or less than a half-inch across), applying warm compresses to the area for about 30 minutes 4 times daily may help. Do not attempt to drain the abscess by squeezing or pressing on it. This can push the infected material into the deeper tissues. Also, do not attempt to stick a needle or other sharp instruments into the abscess center, because you may injure an underlying blood vessel or cause the infection to spread. It’s important to make sure your child avoids touching, pushing, popping, or squeezing the abscess because that can easily spread the infection or push it deeper inside the body, only making things worse. An easy way to prevent spreading the infection is by not letting your child share clothes, towels, washcloths, sheets, or anything that may have touched the abscess.
Even though you can take it upon yourself to treat your little one, seeing a healthcare provider is highly recommended to ensure full safety. The trained professional will be skilled enough to cut open the abscess and completely drain the pus and debris. Once the sore has drained, the doctor may insert some packing into the remaining cavity to allow the infection to continue to drain. It may be kept open for a day or two. A bandage will then be placed over the packing, and you will be given instructions about home care. Most children will feel better immediately after the abscess is drained. If the child is still experiencing pain, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics for home use over the next few days.
Continuing on the good news train, abscesses of all kinds can be prevented by practicing good hygiene. Keep all cuts and wounds clean, dry, and covered with a bandage to protect them from germs. It is also important to teach kids to wash their hands often and well, using soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t handy, it’s OK to use alcohol-based instant hand sanitizers or wipes.
Fortunately, once treated the abscess should heal and your child will forget all about it. Even though there are rare cases in which abscesses shave led to serious illnesses, the chances of that happening are extremely low if you make sure to follow these simple steps. Abscesses can be nasty, and many people become squeamish at the sight of them, but the staff at Chai Care are trained professionals who can take care of them in no time!
* Legal disclaimer: The content of this article and the entire Chai Care blog is for educational purposes only; it does NOT constitute medical advice and must not be considered as such. Please consult a medical professional regarding any symptoms or health concerns you or your loved ones.