Abscess or boil

What’s an abscess?

An abscess is a bacterial infection in a non-preformed body cavity. An abscess is also known as a boil. The collection of pus is surrounded by a capsule.

A distinction is made between cutaneous abscesses, which are located in the subcutaneous tissue (subcutis) and/or in the dermis, and deeper abscesses, which can be located anywhere in the body, including organs. In most cases, abscesses are caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. Abscesses can assume different sizes: They can be only a few millimetres or even several centimetres in size.

If they are superficially visible on the skin, they usually present themselves with a reddening. In addition, the area is often overheated, swollen with elasticity and painful under pressure. The surface of the skin is usually intact, but can also break open, in which case the pus empties.

General symptoms, which can occur not only in cutaneous but in all abscesses, are fever, a reduced general condition or swelling of the lymph nodes. Abscesses can occur spontaneously or after surgery, in cases of immunodeficiency or in connection with other diseases such as Crohn’s disease or diabetes mellitus. Abscesses can occur spontaneously or after surgery, in the case of immunodeficiency or in connection with other diseases such as Crohn’s disease or diabetes mellitus.

What is a boil?

A boil is an inflammation of the entire hair follicle and the surrounding tissue. A boil therefore only occurs in regions where there is hair. The preliminary stage of furuncle is folliculitis – an inflammation of the upper section of the hair follicle.

If several boils merge together, this is called carbuncle. The furuncle is usually caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, in rare cases also by streptococci, gram-negative bacteria or fungi. The risk factors for the development of boils are on the one hand warm and humid climates.

On the other hand, people with neurodermatitis are more frequently affected. Skin lesions, malnutrition and poor skin hygiene can also facilitate the development of furuncles. Diabetes is also a risk factor.

Visually, a boil stands out as a hard knot, which can be about 0.5 to 2 cm in size and is filled with pus. The pus can empty spontaneously. General symptoms such as fever or exhaustion are also possible. After healing, scarring is more frequent.

What are the differences?

Boils can be seen as a subform of an abscess and are therefore also called hair follicle abscess. The boil is therefore called a boil if it is an inflammation of the hair follicle, so that a boil only occurs where there is hair on the body. Preferably, boils occur in the neck region, on the face, under the armpits, in the anogenital region or on the thighs.

An abscess – as an umbrella term for encapsulated accumulations of pus – on the other hand can occur almost everywhere on and in the body (in the skin, mucous membrane, muscles, internal organs). Boils are usually only 0.5 to 2 cm in size, whereas abscesses can take on any size and are sometimes several centimetres in size. Another difference is in the diagnosis.

The diagnosis is made visually in the case of boils and also in the case of abscesses that lie in the skin. For deeper abscesses, imaging procedures such as ultrasound, an MRI or CT examination may be necessary. This means that the diagnosis of an abscess can generally be more complex than for a boil.