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Distinguishing Cysts from Abscesses: Understanding the Differences



A sudden abnormal growth on the skin can be concerning. However, it is important to check if it is a cyst or an abscess. To know what this new growth is, it is important to know the difference between a cyst and an abscess. 

A cyst is a cavity or sac that is filled with pus or fluid semisolid material or air. They can form in various parts of the body, including the skin and organs. They can be benign or malignant, and the treatment options vary depending on the location, size, and type of cyst. Some cysts may not require any treatment and can resolve on their own, while others may need to be drained or surgically removed.

An abscess is an infection that is filled with pus. It can occur anywhere in the body and is typically caused by bacterial infection, but viral, parasitic, or foreign objects can also cause it. The body’s immune system attempts to fight off the infection by creating an accumulation of white blood cells, debris, and bacteria, forming the pus. It can cause pain, swelling, and redness in the affected area. They can be treated with antibiotics and drained if necessary. 

Please keep reading to learn more about the difference between an abscess and a cyst

Difference Between Abscess And Cyst

While abscess and cyst may look alike, there are various differences between them. So, what are the differences between an abscess and a cyst? Let’s find out. 

Abscess Vs. Cyst

What is it?An abscess is an infection that is filled with pus.A cyst is a cavity or sac that is filled with pus or fluid semisolid material or air.
Symptoms An abscess is painful, red, swollen, and irritated.A cyst does not cause pain until it enlarges.
Causes An abscess is usually caused by bacterial infections but can also be caused by viral, parasitic, or foreign objects.Depending upon the type of cyst, its causes may vary. However, cysts may be caused by infections, severe inflammatory problems, piercings, etc. 
Treatment Abscesses are usually required to be treated to alleviate pain and prevent the infection from spreading to other parts of the body. Small cysts may heal on their own without the need for any treatment. In case of enlarged cysts, draining or surgical treatment might be required. 
Other An abscess doesn’t form from a cyst. Upon getting infected, a cyst may form into an abscess.
ExamplesExample 1:Abscess in the Bartholin’s gland may occur due to an infection in the gland or from an infected cyst. 

Example 2:A dental abscess is a type of infection that is usually acute and causes swelling, pain, and a bad taste in the mouth. 
Example 1:In around two percent of women, blockage of the Bartholin’s gland may result from an injury or irritation. The fluid secreted by the gland backs up, causing the gland to enlarge. This is called Bartholin’s cyst, Bartholin’s duct cyst, or Bartholinitis.

Example 2:A dental cyst is a small sac that grows around a tooth. A cyst may cause no symptoms. A cyst may cause pain after it grows. Upon getting infected, a dental cyst may become an abscess. 

Common Types Of Cysts And Abscesses

Some common types of cysts that can form on any part of the body include the following, 

  • Epidermoid cysts
  • Sebaceous cysts
  • Ganglion cysts
  • Pilar cysts
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Pilonidal cyst resection
  • Dental cyst
  • Bartholin’s cyst

Some common types of abscesses that can form on any part of the body include the following, 

  • Abdominal abscess
  • Amoebic liver abscess
  • Pancreatic abscess
  • Skin abscess
  • Spinal cord abscess
  • Brain abscess
  • Anorectal abscess
  • Subareolar abscess
  • Retropharyngeal abscess
  • Peritonsillar abscess
  • Pyogenic liver abscess

Treatment For Cysts And Abscesses 

Depending upon the location, there are different methods available for treating cysts and abscesses.

Treatment For Cysts  

Usually, cysts that are small heal on their own without the need for any medical attention. Applying warm compression for about 20 minutes over the cyst can help with its healing. Additionally, any cyst that causes pain or discomfort may need medical attention. The doctor may remove the cyst by draining it or performing surgery. Medicines like corticosteroid injections may be given to alleviate the pain and inflammation of the cyst.  

Treatment For Abscess 

Small abscesses on the skin may drain, shrink or dry up on their own without needing medical attention. However, larger abscesses may require treatment with antibiotics to treat the infection. Additionally, draining the pus form, the abscess may also be needed. 

Important Note

It is important not to squeeze, drain, or try to remove a cyst or an abscess yourself, as it may cause an infection or worsen an existing infection. It is best to seek medical advice rather than trying to remove or drain it at home. 

Abscess Vs. Cyst Vs. Boil

Abscess: An abscess is an infection filled with pus, is painful, and can happen anywhere on the body. 

Cyst: A cyst is a cavity or sac that is filled with pus or fluid semisolid material or air. Cysts can be benign or malignant and can form on any part of the body. 

Boil: A small skin abscess is also called a boil and can appear on any body part. A boil is also known as a furuncle. 


Although abscesses and cysts may appear similar, there are differences between them. The best thing to do upon noticing any growth on the skin is to get it diagnosed by a doctor. In case of internal abscesses and cysts, a doctor may perform tests kike blood tests, X-rays, MRI scans, or CT scans to find where the abscess or cyst is located. Draining a cyst or an abscess at home must be strictly avoided as it will only worsen the problem. 

At Ayu Health, we provide accurate diagnosis and treatment for any condition our patient has, including abscesses and cysts. Our team of highly skilled experts provides the best treatment plans that are highly affordable, ensuring optimum patient satisfaction. 


1. How does a cyst turn into an abscess? 

A cyst may lead to the formation of an abscess upon bursting and getting infected. In such cases, it is important to seek medical attention. 

2. Can a cyst or abscess go away on its own?

Small cysts and abscesses may drain, shrink or dry up on their own without needing medical attention. 

3. Will it hurt while getting an abscess removed?

No, an abscess removal is not usually painful, as the doctor will numb the area before draining the abscess.

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About the Author

Dr goel
Dr. S. Goel
MBBS PGDCM FID MBAHHM at Ayu Health | Website | + posts

Dr. S. Goel  is a renowned Internal Medicine Specialist currently practicing at Ayu Health, Bangalore.  He is a Specialist in Internal Medicine, Diabetes HTN, Paediatric Care, and Family Medicine.

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