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Difference Between Abscess and Ulcer

Abscess Vs Ulcer

Abscess and ulcer are two different forms of skin lesions. An abscess is a closed lesion where pus is being accumulated underneath the skin. The pus, actually a clump of dead neutrophils, gathers in a form of cavity. This signals an ongoing infectious process that may either be caused by parasites or bacteria. The settling of the pus in a cavity is actually a defense mechanism by the body so that the infection won’t spread to nearby tissues

Abscesses look like a protruding thin capsule whose presenting feature is called the abscess wall. This wall is adjacent to nearby healthy skin cells making it very noticeable both to touch and sight. The only drawback with this isolation mechanism is that the immune cells are no longer able to penetrate into the cavity which leaves the offending bacteria unchecked.

The hallmark signs and symptoms of an abscess are the same as the cardinal signs of any inflammatory process. First there’s redness and heat that it later develops into visible swelling accompanied by pain. If the abscess continues to worsen without treatment then it will lead to a temporary or even permanent loss of function.

Abscesses can both be superficial and deep. In the case of the former, abscesses usually form on the skin (the most common). Deeper abscesses can form as deep as the lung tissues, tonsils and even the brain. More importantly for deep abscesses, these lesions are rather fatal as some may obstruct vital internal structures like the trachea. These instances are nonetheless rare.

With regard to treatment, abscesses seldom heal by themselves. Hence, some take in antibiotics or employ invasive minor procedures such as curettage and debridement whenever necessary. The simpler approach is to do drainage when the protruding cavity has turned into a soft pus-like encapsulation. Drainage is done by first doing lancing or pricking the pustule.

Ulcers are very different from abscesses in the sense that there’s actual disintegration of the tissue. For the more serious type, ulcers can penetrate not just the upper layer of the skin but also the dermis and sub cutis areas. Typical ulcers appear reddened and inflamed while some can form open craters (usually irregularly round), very painful and show visible signs of skin erosion. They may even bleed.

Ulcers are usually caused by the following factors: extreme heat or cold, poor blood circulation, prolonged immobility and local irritation. There are various grades of ulcers from 1 to 4 with 1 being the minor class and 4 being the more serious which involves death of cells (necrosis).

Treatment for ulcers is almost the same as treating abscesses but it just takes a longer time. Stage 4 ulcers may even require skin grafting or plastic surgeries.

1. Abscesses are usually enclosed lesions while ulcers are normally open lesions.

2. The most common abscesses are usually found superficially while ulcers can penetrate deep beneath the skin.

3. Abscesses heal faster compared to ulcers.


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