Incision and Drainage of a Skin Abscess
(Skin Abscess, Incision and Drainage)
A skin abscess (often called a boil) is a pocket of pus in the skin. Incision (cut) and drainage is a procedure to drain pus from an abscess.
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Reasons for Procedure
Drainage of an abscess is the preferred treatment to clear an abscess. It is often used if the abscess is large, growing, painful, or not improving on its own.
Do not pop or cut an abscess yourself. This can spread infection and make it worse.
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
- Diabetes or other conditions that weaken the immune system
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
- Your doctor will examine the abscess.
- An ultrasound or other imaging method may be used if the abscess is large or deep. Blood tests may also be used to find out how severe the infection is.
- Your doctor may make sure your tetanus immunizations are current.
A local anesthesia will be applied to your skin. This will make the area numb.
Description of Procedure
Most of the time, this procedure can be done in your doctor’s office. Large, deep abscesses, or abscesses in sensitive areas (such as near the anus) may require treatment in the hospital.
The area will be wiped with a special cleansing fluid. Anesthesia will be applied. A small incision will be made. A syringe or catheter may be used to drain the pus from the abscess or the pus may be squeezed out. Gauze may be used to soak up the fluid. A clean water mixture will be used to flush the area.
A tool may be used to explore inside the cut. It can also help break down the abscess. A sample of the bacteria may be taken with a cotton swab for testing. Sometimes, the doctor will decide to pack the wound with clean gauze. This will help make sure the abscess does not form again. If this happens, you will come back in 1-2 days to remove or replace the packing. Gauze and dressing tape will be used to cover the wound.
How Long Will It Take?
Will It Hurt?
The procedure should not hurt. You may feel a slight pinch and burning when the local anesthetic is injected.
The skin should heal completely in about 14 days. Home care will focus on pain and infection control. You may need to limit movement of the affected area to give it time to heal. Follow instructions on how to clean and replace bandages.
Call Your Doctor
Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications such as:
- Worsening pain, redness, swelling, and bleeding
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Changes in discharge such as pus
If you think you an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Academy of Dermatology
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons
Abscess incision and drainage. University at Buffalo—The State University of New York website. Available at: http://apps.med.buffalo.edu/procedures/abscess.asp?p=1. Accessed December 20, 2017.
Fitch M, Manthey D, McGinnis HD, Nicks BA, Pariyadath M. Abscess incision and drainage. NEJM. 2007;357(19):e20.
Skin abscesses, furuncles, and carbuncles. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116747/Skin-abscesses-furuncles-and-carbuncles. Updated October 27, 2017. Accessed December 20, 2017.
Surgical site infection—prevention. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T316886/Surgical-site-infection-prevention. Updated October 3, 2017. Accessed December 20, 2017.
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Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD Last Updated: 12/20/2014