What Are Medical Treatments for Skin Abscesses?
Often, a skin abscess will not heal on its own without further intervention by a health care provider. Initially, an abscess may feel firm and hardened (indurated), at which time incision and drainage may not be possible. However, once the abscess begins to "come to a head" and it becomes softer and fluid-filled, a minor surgery to lance it to evacuate the pus and relieve the pressure is the best course of action. A doctor will open and drain the abscess (incision and drainage) using the following technique:
- The area around the abscess will be numbed with local anesthetic.
- It is often difficult to completely numb the area, but in general, local anesthesia can make the procedure almost painless.
- A sedative may be given if the abscess is large.
- The affected area will be covered with an antiseptic solution and sterile towels placed around it.
- The doctor will cut open the abscess with a scalpel and drain as much of the pus and debris as possible. Sometimes, there will be multiple pockets of pus that must be identified and drained.
- Once the sore has drained, the doctor may insert packing into the remaining cavity to minimize bleeding and to keep the wound open for a day or two so any remaining pus can continue to drain.
- A bandage will then be placed over the packing, and the patient will be given instructions for home care.
- Most people feel better immediately after the abscess is drained.
- A doctor may prescribe pain medication, depending upon the location, size, and extent of the abscess.
- Antibiotics are generally not necessary; however, they may be prescribed if the abscess is associated with a surrounding skin infection. Antibiotics such as trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim), cephalexin (Keflex), or azithromycin (Zithromax Z-pak) may also be prescribed, depending upon the location of an abscess and whether or not the individual has a compromised immune system.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/11/2017
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