Library Search Go Advanced Search
Español (Inicio)

HealthSheets™

Pilonidal Cyst

A pilonidal cyst is found near the tailbone or top of the buttocks crease. It may look like a pit or small depression. In some cases, it may have a hollow tunnel (sinus tract) that connects it to the surface of the skin. Normally, a pilonidal cyst does not cause symptoms. But if it becomes infected, it can cause pain and swelling. This sheet tells you more about pilonidal cysts and how they are treated.

Outline of human figure from the back showing buttocks with small circle above buttocks crease showing where cyst may form. Closeup of section of skin, fat, and bone. Pilonidal cyst is in fat layer, connected by fistula to skin. Skin around fistula is inflamed.

What Causes a Pilonidal Cyst and Who Gets Them?

Two primary causes are:

Ingrown hairs, in which a hair is forced under the skin or when a hair follicle ruptures.

Injury, such as sitting for long periods of time.

These cysts are often diagnosed in people between the ages of 16 and 26. But people of any age can have a pilonidal cyst. While they affect both men and women, they are more common in men than in women.

Symptoms of a Pilonidal Cyst Infection

A pilonidal cyst does not cause symptoms unless it becomes infected. Once a pilonidal cyst becomes infected, it is commonly referred to as a pilonidal abscess. Infection may cause the following symptoms:

  • Pain, redness, and swelling of the cyst and area around it

  • Foul-smelling drainage from the cyst

  • Fever

Diagnosing a Pilonidal Cyst

A pilonidal cyst can be diagnosed by how it looks and by its location. Your doctor will examine the suspected cyst to confirm a diagnosis. You will be told if any tests are needed.

Treating a Pilonidal Cyst Infection

Most pilonidal cysts are left alone. If a cyst becomes infected, though, treatment is needed. It may include the following:

  • Incision and drainage if needed. the cyst is cut open, and pus and other infected material is allowed to drain.

  • Antibiotic medications for the infection. Know that medications do not make the cyst go away, and antibiotics have limited use in the treatment of an abscess. They also won’t keep a cyst from becoming infected again.

  • Hot water soaks to help draw out the infection and relieve pain and itching.

  • Excision of the cyst for infection that is severe, does not respond to medications, or keeps coming back. A surgeon cuts and removes the cyst and the tissue around it. Your doctor can tell you more if this is needed.

Preventing Infection

A pilonidal cyst can easily become infected. Do the following to help prevent infections:

  • Keep the cyst and surrounding skin area clean.

  • Remove hair from the area of the cyst regularly. Ask your doctor about safe hair removal products or procedures.

  • Avoid sitting in one position for long periods of time. This helps to reduce weight and pressure on your tailbone area. Sitting on a special cushion to relieve pressure on the tailbone may also help. Ask your doctor about where to purchase these cushions.

  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing to reduce skin irritation around the cyst.

© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.