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An abscess is a localized pocket of infection (ie. pus) formed by tissue disintegration and surrounded by inflammation. Dustin Sharrow wrote us to expand on this topic.

Abscess occurs when a bacteria invades tissue (for our purposes, skin tissue), and white blood cells engulf the bacteria and die. The white blood cells accumulate as pus because they can't be drained. Tissue eventually grows around the abscess, surrounding and isolating it in an effort to block the spread of infection. If these walls rupture, the infection can spread throughout the tissue, and eventually through the entire body.
Abscesses can happen procedurally from contaminated tools or needles, but more often occur because normal skin bacteria gets trapped inside the piercing wound and is not drained or cleaned properly. Diabetics and those with impaired immune systems are at increased risk for developing abscesses. Parts of the body where blood flow is minimal are also at higher risk.
Symptoms of abscess include pain, tenderness, heat, swelling, redness, and/or fever. Abscesses in piercings usually manifest themselves as raised pinkish bumps between the edges of the piercing.
Some abscesses may heal spontaneously, but most need to be drained (by piercing a hole directly into the abscess site) so that the body can break down the fluid and be rid of it. Antibiotics are usually prescribed, but in fact, rarely help heal the abscess, because it is isolated by the body's own tissue.
Abscesses in piercings are most frequently found with surface piercings which do not adequately drain.