What is a Hard Abscess?

Pamela Pleasant

A hard abscess is an infection located underneath the skin. It typically starts as a reddened and raised lump and progresses into what is referred to as a carbuncle or a boil. White blood cells rush to the infected site to fight off the bacterial infection. Over time, an accumulation of used white blood cells turns into pus. This hardens the skin area and a hard abscess begins to form.

Hard abscesses commonly appear on the arms.
Hard abscesses commonly appear on the arms.

When a hard abscess develops, it is usually caused by a staphylococcus bacterial contamination. The most common reason for this occurrence is a wound or other type of break in the skin. Bacteria can enter through the break and a boil can start to form. Usually after some time, the abscess may pop, releasing the pus so the healing process can begin. If the abscess and pus do not properly drain, the bacterial infection might enter the blood stream, making this medical condition life threatening.

A warm compress may be used to treat an abscess.
A warm compress may be used to treat an abscess.

Reddened and inflamed skin are signs of a hard abscess. After the pus has accumulated at the site, local dead tissue cells are mixed into it. This produces a toxic substance and the body acts to put up a barrier around the infected area. The abscess is actually an attempt by the body to prevent the spreading of the infection. An outer skin layer or protective shell also helps to prevent further cell or tissue damage.

An abscess caused by a diseased tooth typically requires treatment by a dentist.
An abscess caused by a diseased tooth typically requires treatment by a dentist.

These boils or carbuncles can happen to anyone regardless of age or health history. They can also appear anywhere on the body but they are commonly seen on the buttocks, arms, or legs. Occasionally, similar pustules or hard abscesses can be found on the lungs, tonsils, or kidneys. These types of boils are very dangerous and they commonly infect nearby tissues and organs. Excessive internal bleeding and gangrene can also accompany these boils.

Gargling with salt water may help treat the swelling caused by an abscessed tooth.
Gargling with salt water may help treat the swelling caused by an abscessed tooth.

Medical treatment starts with placing hot compresses directly on the infected site. This draws the toxic mixture of dead tissues, cells, and pus to the top layer of the skin. At this point, a health care professional may choose to lance the wound. This releases the pus and also relieves the pressure under the skin. Antibiotics are usually given after the drainage procedure.

Typically, an abscess only happens once but people who have compromised immune systems or certain medical conditions can have them more frequently. For example, inflammatory bowel syndrome can produce these carbuncles more than once, from hardened bowel movements. A doctor should check out any abscess that does not go away.

A warm towel may help alleviate abscess pain.
A warm towel may help alleviate abscess pain.

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Discussion Comments


I had a boil that turned into a large, hard abscess. I've had it for months. This month, a boil grew near it and it burst and I got rid of the pus, then found that I could push the hard pus from the abscess since they were connected. Now the hard abscess is gone and I have a little bit of the boil head left.


I've a pus type hard lump underneath my skin near my anus. I've seen all the symptoms of hemorrhoids, but it's not a hemorrhoid. Now I am just wondering what it might be. I need some help.


@JackWhack – It sounds like your son has cystic acne, which does cause hard abscesses. I had this in my late twenties, and I got a row of lumps that were hard along my jawline.

Nothing I tried helped, and squeezing them only made them hurt worse and look a lot more terrible. I finally went to a dermatologist.

He treated me with a series of chemical peels. He would lance and drain my hard abscesses at every visit, and he also put me on a special type of antibiotics designed to treat severe acne.

It took about six months, but this did cure my acne. Consider taking your son to a dermatologist for help. It is the only way his abscesses will ever clear up.


Can acne be considered a type of hard abscess? I know that blackheads would not fall into this category, but what about those huge red bumps that seem to start way down deep beneath the skin and take several days to come to a head?

My teenager is having this type of acne now, and the bumps are very tender. When he forgets about them and touches his face, he winces in pain.

He has lanced and drained a few of them, but this just seems to make the area look worse. It swells up and turns even redder, and it usually leaves a black scab behind.


My neighbor's cow developed a hard neck lump after she vaccinated it. I have heard of animals developing abscesses at the site of injections before, and sometimes, they go away by themselves, but this one was really gross.

The lump popped up not long after she gave the cow the shot. She left it alone for several days, but after seeing that it wasn't going away, she decided to drain the pus out.

She stuck a needle down inside it and pulled the pus out. It looked like lumpy, spoiled milk. I nearly vomited as I watched!


My friend had a hard abscess on her shin once, and the way it formed is kind of strange. She had accidentally rammed her shin into the lowest bar of a shopping cart, and the area got really sore for the longest time.

It turned into a boil, but then, it became hard. She tried to lance it, but it seemed that no matter how much pus she drained out, more kept building up.

She eventually had to get a steroid shot directly in the hard abscess. She took antibiotics for awhile after that, too. It went away, but it was one of the strangest afflictions she has ever had.

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