Abscesses

An abscess (said ‘ab-cess’) is when a collection of bacteria and pus builds beneath the skin. Abscesses are often sore, red, and swollen.

They can develop on your labia or just outside your vagina in an area called the Bartholin’s glands.

What causes an abscess?

An abscess is often caused by:

  • an infection (such as of the skin glands or an STI)
  • ingrown hair
  • waxing, shaving, laser treatment or piercings in the area.

Women with oilier skin or more hair growth also seem to be more likely to develop a vulvar abscess.

An abscess of the Bartholin’s glands is caused when the gland becomes blocked and then infected.

How is an abscess treated?

Your doctor may recommend:

  • sitz baths or bathing in a mix of warm water and salt (around a teaspoon of salt per litre of water)
  • antibiotics which you usually take as a tablet but may need to take through an IV drip, especially if you are having surgery.
  • drainage or surgery to remove the build-up of pus and bacteria, or to open the abscess and stitch its walls to the surrounding skin so it stays open. You may need to have a gland removed if you have a cyst or abscess that keeps coming back.

To prevent an abscess from coming back, your doctor may recommend steroid and antibiotic lotions. They may also recommend hormone treatments (such as the contraceptive pill) if oil or hair growth seems to be a factor. Our section ‘How can I stay healthy down there?’ also has practical tips.

Things to remember

  • An abscess is a collection of pus and bacteria under the skin.
  • They can be caused by infections and ingrown hairs.
  • They can also be caused by genital piercings and hair removal procedures.

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Disclaimer

The Women’s does not accept any liability to any person for the information or advice (or use of such information or advice) which is provided on the Website or incorporated into it by reference. The Women’s provide this information on the understanding that all persons accessing it take responsibility for assessing its relevance and accuracy. Women are encouraged to discuss their health needs with a health practitioner. If you have concerns about your health, you should seek advice from your health care provider or if you require urgent care you should go to the nearest Emergency Dept.

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