This factsheet is for people who are planning to have a skin abscess drained, or who would like information about it.
An abscess is a localised collection of pus that forms because of an infection. Abscesses can occur in almost any part of the body.
You will meet the GP or surgeon carrying out your procedure to discuss your care. It may differ from what is described here as it will be designed to meet your individual needs.
- About a skin abscess
- Diagnosis of a skin abscess
- What are the alternatives to a skin abscess drainage?
- Preparing for a skin abscess drainage
- What happens during a skin abscess drainage
- What to expect afterwards
- Recovering from a skin abscess drainage
- What are the risks?
About a skin abscess
A skin abscess is a pus-filled area of infection below the skin, for example a boil. It can vary in size from less than one inch to several inches. A skin abscess is painful and tender to touch. The skin may also look red and feel warm.
A skin abscess may burst through the skin or gradually subside without bursting. The infection can spread to the surrounding areas of your skin (cellulitis). You may feel unwell and have a fever.
Skin abscesses are commonly found on areas where there is hair including the face, neck, groin, armpit and bottom. You are more likely to get a skin abscess if you are obese, or have a skin condition or diabetes.
Diagnosis of a skin abscess
A skin abscess is usually easy to see on your skin. Our doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. He will also ask you about your medical history. It’s important that he excludes diabetes.
What are the alternatives to a skin abscess drainage?
Depending on how severe your abscess is, our doctor may recommend a non-surgical treatment for you. Usually you will be given antibiotics to encourage healing. If you feel unwell or have a fever, intravenous antibiotics (injected directly into your bloodstream) may be required, especially if you have other medical conditions such as diabetes. This will usually require admission to hospital.
If your abscess is large, or doesn’t respond quickly to non-surgical treatment, it will need to be drained under local or general anaesthesia.
Our doctor will advise you on which treatment is most suitable for you.
Preparing for a skin abscess drainage
Skin abscess drainage is often done in hospital by a surgeon as an outpatient procedure. This means you have the procedure and can go home the same day. Our surgeon will explain how to prepare for your procedure.
Skin abscess drainage is usually done under local anaesthesia but this will depend on its size and severity.
At the hospital your nurse may check your heart rate and blood pressure, and test your urine.
Our surgeon will discuss with you what will happen before, during and after your procedure, and any pain you might have.
What happens during a skin abscess drainage
Skin abscess drainage usually takes between five and 15 minutes. It may take slightly longer if you need to have a general anaesthetic.
Our surgeon will make a small cut in your abscess. This will allow all of the pus to drain out. He will make sure that the pus drains properly to prevent the abscess coming back, or the infection spreading. Our surgeon will take a sample of the pus to find out what bacteria caused the abscess. This can help with treatment after the skin abscess is drained, such as when choosing the right antibiotic. Once the pus has been drained, our surgeon will clean out the abscess with saline solution. This is a sterile salt solution that will help to ensure all the pus is removed. He or she may then pack the abscess with a dressing. This will allow further drainage of pus and is usually removed one to two days after the procedure.
Your wound will be covered with a sterile dressing.
What to expect afterwards
After a local anaesthetic it may take several hours before the feeling comes back into the treated area. Take special care not to bump or knock the area. Your nurse will give you some advice about caring for your healing wounds before you go home. You will usually be able to go home when you feel ready. You may be given a date for a follow-up appointment. You may notice some pus and fluid escaping from the wound and soiling the dressing.
Recovering from a skin abscess drainage
Our doctor may prescribe antibiotics after your skin abscess drainage. You will also need to take antibiotics if the infection has spread, or if you have a weakened immune system or a fever.
Once the pus is drained, the abscess should heal within two weeks, depending on its size. You can often return to work if you have no problems with the dressing and depending on what type of job you do. This will also depend on the site of the abscess.
What are the risks?
As with every procedure, there are some risks associated with having a skin abscess drained. We have not included the chance of these happening as they are specific to you and differ for every person. Ask our surgeon to explain how these risks apply to you.
Side-effects are the unwanted but mostly temporary effects you may get after having the procedure.
You’re unlikely to get any side-effects after a skin abscess drainage but you may find there is some pain in the area that was drained.