Abscess - Incision and Drainage

This is the drainage of infected fluid (pus) from a lump, or abscess.

This is the drainage of infected fluid (pus) from a lump, or abscess.

A skin abscess is an infected lump on the skin that is usually tender and filled with pus. The incision and drainage of a skin abscess involves cutting the skin over the abscess to drain the infected fluid (pus).

  • Abscesses on the skin are common and are most often due to bacterial infections.
  • Anyone can develop a skin abscess anywhere on their body. However, abscess formation is more common in certain areas of the body (e.g., in the arm pit).

Skin abscesses can result in swelling, redness, spontaneous drainage of pus, pain and tenderness. On rare occasions, fever and chills can develop; especially if there is a delay in treatment. Unless a skin abscess is very large, it can usually be treated during the initial evaluation. This is done by making a small cut (incision) above the abscess and allowing the infected material (pus) to drain. The area can then be adequately cleaned.

  • To identify the bacteria causing an infection, your healthcare provider may swab or collect some of the drainage and send it to the lab. This will help in deciding further treatment.
  • The best initial treatment is usually drainage of an abscess. Antibiotics may be ordered to clear the infection and prevent it from spreading.
  • Using warm compresses can help decrease the redness and swelling, improve healing and promote proper drainage without the need for an incision.

To prevent infections that can lead to an abscess, keep all wounds (even minor ones) clean and dry.

While some abscesses go away with self-care, there may be times you need to see a healthcare provider for treatment. Be prepared to discuss your symptoms and how long you've had them.

  • Bring a copy of your medical history (past illnesses, surgeries, and hospitalizations).
  • Make a list of your medications (including over-the-counter).
  • Write down any questions, symptoms or concerns you want to talk about.
  • If your healthcare provider wants you to take a medication, ask if an over-the-counter product is right for you.
  • If your health care provider refers you to a dermatologist, ask why that referral is necessary.
  • If your healthcare provider prescribes a medication for you, ask why an over-the-counter product cannot be used. If a prescription product is necessary, ask for a generic version.
  • If your doctor thinks that a generic version is not right for you, ask for a medication on the lowest available tier of your Prescription Drug List (PDL).

Here are some questions to ask your healthcare provider.

  • What are some of the complications of a skin abscess?
  • What treatment, if any, are you recommending? What options are available?
  • If medication is recommended, how long will I need to take it? What are the possible side effects?
  • How long will it take for my skin abscess to improve? How can I stop it from coming back?
  • What are my follow-up plans and what symptoms should I report before my next appointment?

Source UHC.com

Also known as:

Acne Conditions
Abscess - Incision and Drainage

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