An abscess is a pus-filled pocket of localized infection ringed by inflammation. An abscess can occur anywhere in the body, but an abscess that occurs within the nasal cavity is referred to as a nasal abscess. The nasal cavity is the area of the body within the nose that extends from the nostrils to the throat.
Bacterial and viral infections, parasites, the intrusion of foreign substances into the nasal cavity and injuries can all cause a nasal abscess. After the underlying insult has occurred, the immune system sends white blood cells to the damaged location to fight infection. Pus, which consists of lymph fluid, active and dead white blood cells, destroyed tissue and bacteria or other foreign substances, begins to collect in the area.
Unlike many other types of abscesses, a nasal abscess can often be treated with antibiotics, because the nasal cavity is highly vascularized, making it easier for antibiotics traveling through the blood stream to reach small pockets of infection in the nose. Sometimes it is necessary to drain a nasal abscess surgically. This is usually a simple outpatient procedure done with a localized anesthetic, but if the patient has underlying health conditions that compromise his or her immune system, hospitalization can be necessary. If a nasal abscess is left untreated, the infection can spread to bones or the bloodstream, which can have life-threatening consequences.
One type of nasal abscess is a nasal septal abscess. The nasal septum is the structure that runs through the middle of the nose, dividing it into two sides, each defined by a nostril at the outside end. The nasal septum consists of both bone and cartilage. Nasal septal abscesses usually occur in the cartilaginous portion of the septum after a traumatic injury. Dental infections, sinusitis, influenza and nasal surgeries can also cause nasal septal abscesses, and the symptoms include pain, inflammation, redness and bleeding. If left untreated, nasal abscesses can cause nasal obstruction, difficulty breathing and, ultimately, permanent damage to the septum.
Abscesses can be a cause for serious concern because of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a bacterium that has become resistant to many of the front-line antibiotics usually used to fight infection. MRSA abscesses usually will respond to treatment with stronger antibiotics, such as vancomycin, but doctors often opt to drain abscesses infected with MRSA bacterium instead administering antibiotics. This is done to help prevent MRSA from becoming resistant to even more types of antibiotics.