What Are The Causes And Effects Of A Pilonidal Abscess?
An abscess is a pocket of infection, and a pilonidal abscess is an infection that has occurred in a cyst in the pilonidal area of the body. The pilonidal area lies just beneath the tailbone. More specifically, it is the area just under the tailbone and at the top of the cleft in the buttocks. This area often contains some body hair. Because of its location, it occasionally collects a certain amount of debris.
A pocket sometimes forms in the skin in this area under the tailbone. This pocket is abnormal. It is a cyst, a pilonidal cyst, which can at times be the source of a problem. The word pilonidal is Latin, and it means “a nest of hair”, which in some cases is an apt description of the area in question.
A pilonidal cyst in most instances is quite harmless, and therefore does not require any special treatment. If it becomes infected however, it can be a different story entirely. When a pilonidal cyst becomes infected, what you end up with is a pilonidal abscess, which often does require treatment. Having such an abscess can be a one-time event, or it can be an abscess that comes and goes.
Usually when we have an abscess it either goes away by itself, or we have to have it drained or removed. Sometimes, an abscess will respond to medication, at other times it will not, or the prescribed treatment, even though effective, may tend to drag out. Some abscesses seem to go away on their own, only to flare up again at a later time.
Some Abscesses Are Treated – Some Are Not
In the case of a pilonidal abscess, it is unlikely to go away on its own. There are people who manage to live with a pilonidal abscess, or at least until it becomes too large. An abscess will quite often grow larger over time, or its presence will simply begin to cause too much discomfort. If we have an abscess that is quite visible, or one we know might create a greater problem if left untreated, we usually do something about it. There’s something about having an abscess in an area where the sun doesn’t shine however, that seems to suggest we can safely ignore it.
Assume for a moment that a pilonidal cyst has formed beneath your tailbone. You can either feel its presence, or your doctor has told you a cyst has formed in the area, but in either case it’s not yet a problem. You don’t feel any need to have the cyst removed, although having it done might give you a little peace of mind. I you do decide to leave it alone however, it shouldn’t be left alone entirely. What you need to do is take the necessary steps to ensure the cyst will not become infected, leaving you with an abscess to deal with. What steps should those be? The answer is quite simple. It’s all about hygiene. You need to keep the area just as clean as you would your face.
Places We Don’t Always Keep Spotless
That isn’t always as simple as it should be. We tend to think of the area around our crotch, and the area back where the sun doesn’t shine, as being naturally dirty. They aren’t, or at least they shouldn’t be. These rather private areas should be kept as clean as any other part of the body. Some people have trouble with that. After all, there are some places you’re just not comfortable with when it comes to doing some scrubbing.
Since the cleft collects everything from loose hairs, to dry skin, to lint, to traces of waste material, it’s really a breeding ground for infection should a cut, scrape, or cyst should enter the picture. Taking a shower, even a daily shower, isn’t going to keep the area clean enough, unless we take the time to do a little scrubbing down there, and how many of us do that?
Even if you have the cyst and abscess removed, there is about a 10% chance of it recurring. In most cases however the abscess is simply drained, a procedure which can be done in a doctor’s office using a local anesthetic. If this is the course of action you take, you’ll likely be instructed to keep the area clean while healing is underway. The doctor may or may not recommend that you always keep the area spotlessly clean, although he really should. If the abscess is simply drained, but the condition keeps on recurring, both the abscess and the cyst will need to be surgically removed.
A pilonidal abscess is most common in younger adults, but it is quite uncommon in older adults. Does this suggest that older adults do a better job of keeping the pilonidal area clean? Probably not. Young women and teenage girls seem less apt to experience this type of abscess, although when they do have a problem it can sometimes be traced to the hormonal changes associated with the menstrual cycle. Whatever the cause may be, keeping the area clean is by far the best preventive measure.