What Caregivers Need to Know about Bedsores and Abscess Risks

Jul 23, 2018

Each year, around four to five million people in the United States develop chronic non-healing wounds.  With many of these wounds caused by bedsores, here is what caregivers need to know about bedsores and abscess risks.  This information is especially important for caregivers and family members of elderly people who have limited mobility, such as in a hospital, rehabilitation, or nursing home setting.

What is an Abscess?

There is a common misconception that abscesses occur as a result of poor hygiene.  The truth is, abscesses can develop in anyone.  Most abscesses are the result of normal bacteria found on the skin, that gets into a wound and causes infection.  The base wound can be small – anything from a bug bite to a scrape, skin inflammation to a bedsore.  When an infection is not immediately diagnosed or treated, or the infection is aggressive, an abscess can form and medical attention is required for treatment.

Treating an abscess is more involved than treatment of a standard infection.  Antibiotics often are not enough to cure the abscess.  Most cases require that the wound is opened and drained by a healthcare provider to allow the infection to leave the wound.  In more severe cases, surgery may be required to open and drain the infection.  Without draining the abscess and treating the infection, the bacteria can spread, causing the infection to seep into the bloodstream.

What Caregivers Need to Know about Bedsores and Abscess Risks

Because there are many misconceptions about abscesses, and they can be difficult to recognize, here is some helpful information for caregivers:

  • Cause: Most abscesses are caused by an internal infection. Bedsores pose additional risk of developing an abscess because these wounds are often worse inside than they appear.
  • Location: The most common sites where abscesses occur include the base of the spine, the groin area, the genitals, or the armpits.
  • Contents: At the center of an abscess is a liquid of sorts that contains dead tissue or cells, bacteria, and debris. As the infection grows, the center may grow and create more inflammation and pressure on the wound.
  • Base Wound: An abscess occurs when there is a breakdown in the integrity of the skin. This breakdown can be from something as small as inflammation, or as severe as an open wound.  When normal bacteria enters a wound, infection can occur.
  • Reasons Abscesses Occur: Sometimes, an abscess is the body’s way of fighting off germs and bacteria by prompting an inflammatory response.
  • Increased Risks: Individuals may be at a greater risk for developing an abscess if they have a weakened immune system, have a history of infections, or have limited mobility.
  • Signs and Symptoms of an Abscess: Recognizing and treating an abscess quickly is the best way to prevent complications and deteriorating health outcomes. The symptoms of an abscess include:
    • A painful lump or mass
    • Redness or warmth to the touch
    • Development of a “point” or “head”, where pus or debris may be visible under the skin
    • An infection that persists or worsens, even with treatment
    • A fever or other symptoms indicating that the infection has spread

Because bedsores increase abscess risk, it is important that caregivers have a firm grasp on how these wounds occur, when to get treatment, and how to prevent future infections.  To learn more about preventing bedsores, getting treatment, or ensuring that a caregiver has the proper skills to address the needs of your loved one, browse our website, or contact us to learn more.

How is an Abscess Treated?

Treatment options for an abscess depend on the nature and severity of the infection.  Sometimes, small abscesses may be treatable without doctor intervention.  In more serious cases, medical attention can equate to a life or death outcome.  Consider the following treatment options:

At Home Treatment:

  • Warm compresses applied several times a day
  • Pain medication or antibiotics if prescribed
  • Never squeeze or press on the wound, as that may push infection further into the body
  • Never attempt to incise (open) or drain the wound at home, as infection can easily spread

Medical Treatment:

  • Incision and draining of the abscess (may include total cleaning of debris and pus)
  • Wound cleaning with sterile antiseptic
  • Wound covering with sterile towels or dressings
  • Packing the wound with sterile gauze to keep the wound open and draining
  • Pain medication following incision and draining
  • Antibiotic treatment

These treatments are general, and do not include various factors, such as the overall health of the patient, or the extent of the infection.  Every patient responds differently to infection and treatment, which is why it is incredibly important to recognize abscesses and initiate treatment as soon as possible.  Patients who have a diagnosed abscess, but who experience any of the following should contact their healthcare provider, or go to the emergency room immediately:

  • A sore that grows to more than a half-inch across
  • A fever of 102 degrees or higher
  • The sore becomes more painful or discolored
  • Noticeable streaks on the skin, which may indicate spreading
  • Tender lymph nodes

For people who are at risk of developing bedsores, abscess prevention is a critical element of their care plan.  Preventing an abscess can be a challenge, especially since they often develop in internal structures.  Abscesses most commonly affect people who have other medical conditions, such as diabetes, or conditions impacting circulation.

Get Help Understanding Bedsores and Abscess Risks

If you want to learn more about bedsores and abscess risks – whether you are a patient, caregiver, or family member – browse the topics on our website, or contact us to speak with one of our bedsore attorneys.  Our goal is to provide readers with helpful information that will prevent bedsores and complications.