Incision and Drainage: What is an Abscess? Why Should You See Us?
“An abscess can be quite painful and may be unlikely to heal on its own. Making a small incision and draining the contents can provide relief of pain and speed healing. If you have a painful abscess, make an appointment to see us urgently”.
What is an abscess?
An abscess is a collection of pus under the skin. It is caused by a bacterial infection and often forms at the base of a hair shaft or around a blocked sweat gland. It may also occur from a small injury to the skin. In an abscess, white blood cells rush to the affected area to fight the bacteria causing the infection. Pus is a conglomeration of damaged tissue debris and white blood cells. An abscess may contain quite a large amount of pus.
What are the symptoms of an abscess?
If you have an abscess, the first thing you might notice is pain. Abscesses can be quite tender. They may appear as a large pimple-like lump with a domed peak. The skin around it may be red and warm. The abscess itself may feel firm. You may notice pus coming from it if it has opened. You may develop fever and chills, depending on the size and location of the abscess. Abscesses can form anywhere.
Does an abscess need to be treated?
If your abscess has burst and is draining on it’s own and you do not have fever, you can watch the abscess for a day or two to see if it is going to resolve on its own. You should never squeeze or milk the pus from an abscess! Keep the area clean and dry.
Most abscesses will not clear up so easily and will require medical care. Left untreated, you may feel quite ill and the pain may cause you to seek care. It’s best to see a doctor for your abscess, as incision and drainage, followed by antibiotics, is often needed.
What can I expect when I come in?
When you come in to see us, we will first need to know a little about you, such as whether you have any chronic health conditions, whether you are taking any medications and whether you have any allergies.
We’ll need to take a look at the affected area. You may be asked to change into a gown, depending on the location of your abscess. We’ll examine the area to make sure that it is an abscess and not another problem. We’ll ask when it appeared, whether you have had one before and whether you have had any fever or chills.
Incision and Drainage
There’s a very good chance that we will need to drain your abscess if it is large and painful. Doing so will relieve pain and speed the healing process. Incision and drainage involves the following:
- cleansing of the skin over the abscess with an antiseptic agent
- freezing of the area using a local anesthetic
- making an incision over the top of the incision from top to bottom
- expressing the abscess to encourage drainage
- exploring the abscess to ensure we have gotten all of the infected material out (for larger abscesses)
- packing the abscess to prevent the wound edges from healing together (for larger abscesses)
- applying a dressing to the area to soak up any further drainage
The entire procedure lasts only about 10 minutes for an uncomplicated abscess. The abscess is left open to allow it to drain and heal. Suturing it closed may result in further infection. You may be asked to return the next day if we packed your abscess- when you return we will remove the packing and recheck the wound.
We may prescribe antibiotics depending on how large the abscess was, whether you have fever and what we believe the causative agent is. Most simple abscesses are caused by Staphylococcus or Streptococcus, common organisms that live on your skin and only cause infection when they manage to make their way under the skin through a small break. If we prescribe antibiotics, it is important that you take them as directed and finish the entire course.
In some cases, we may elect not to drain your abscess and send you to a specialist. This may occur if your abscess is very large or in an area that we feel is particularly delicate (such as near the genitals or rectum). If this happens, we will explain why it is best that you go elsewhere for care.
If you have an abscess that is reddened, swollen and painful, make an appointment to come in and see us. In most cases, an abscess will not heal without medical care. Medical care can ease the pain and speed healing. In most cases, we will be able to get you in quickly, so call today to make your appointment.