An anal abscess forms when a small cavity in the anus becomes infected and filled with pus. If the anal abscess is not treated promptly, it can develop into a fistula, which will require surgery to correct it.
There are a number of potential causes of an anal abscess. The most common causes are a blocked anal gland, an infected anal tear, or an STI (sexually transmitted infection).
Anal abscesses are very common in young children who have a history of anal tears caused by chronic constipation. If your child complains of pain in their anal area, always check to see if there is a small, reddened nodule visible at the rim of the anus; this could indicate that an anal abscess is developing.
There are a number of symptoms of anal abscesses, although constant, throbbing pain is the most common. Swelling may occur in the anal area and there will be extreme pain during bowel movements.
You may be able to feel a small, tender lump at the rim of the anus. If the anal abscess is very deep, it may not be possible to see anything abnormal, but you may feel nauseous and feverish, and you may have a deep, throbbing pain in your stomach.
An anal gland abscess is usually diagnosed by your physician during a physical examination. They will look for the characteristic swellings and will also check for redness and pain in the anal area.
If there are no obvious external signs, the physician may use an instrument called an anoscope to look inside the anus and lower rectum. If the abscess is very deep, it may be necessary for you to have an MRI or ultrasound scan to provide a definitive diagnosis. Blood tests may also be carried out to ensure that Crohn's disease is not the cause of the problem.
It is rare for an anal abscess to resolve itself. The usual treatment is for your physician to drain the infected area of pus, and this procedure can usually be carried out in the clinic without you needing to go to hospital. Before the procedure, the area around the abscess will be numbed with a local anesthetic.
If the anal abscess is very large, surgery may be required and a catheter inserted to ensure that the abscess drains completely. In this instance, you will need to stay in the hospital for a few days following the procedure.
Ordinarily, you won't need stitches and once you come home, it will be recommended that you take a warm bath each day to reduce any swelling and to encourage the abscess to drain completely.
Your doctor may also give you antibiotics to guard against infection.
There are a few steps that you can take to prevent a recurrence of an anal abscess.
Anal abscesses are a painful and embarrassing condition that can affect both adults and children. Prevent anal abscesses by practicing good hygiene and use effective protection if you indulge in anal sex.
If you experience any pain or discomfort around your anal area and think that you may have an anal abscess, always consult your physician for advice without delay.