Incision and Drainage of a Skin Abscess
(Skin Abscess, Incision and Drainage)
Incision (cut) and drainage is a procedure to drain pus from an abscess. A skin abscess ( boil) is a pocket of pus in the skin.
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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.
Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over problems that could happen, such as:
- Damage to nearby structures
Things that may raise the risk of problems are:
- Drinking alcohol
- Long term diseases such as diabetes or obesity
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
The doctor may talk to you about:
- Any imaging or blood tests you may need
- Whether or not your tetanus immunizations are current
The doctor will give local anesthesia—the area will be numbed.
Description of Procedure
Most of the time, this procedure can be done in the doctor’s office. Large, deep abscesses, or abscesses in sensitive areas (such as near the anus) may be treated in the hospital.
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.
The doctor may use a tool to look inside the incision. The tool can also help break down the abscess. The doctor may take a sample of bacteria with a cotton swab for testing. Sometimes, the doctor will pack the wound with clean gauze. This will help make sure the abscess does not form again. If this happens, the packing will need to be removed or replaced in 1 to 2 days. Gauze and dressing tape will be used to cover the wound.
How Long Will It Take?
30 to 45 minutes
Will It Hurt?
Some pain in the area is common after the procedure. Medicine and home care help.
The skin should heal in about 14 days. Physical activity may be limited during this time. You will need to clean and replace bandages as instructed. You may need to delay your return to work for a few days.
Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if you are not getting better or you have:
- Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
- Worsening pain, redness, swelling, and bleeding
- Changes in discharge such as pus
If you think you an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Academy of Dermatology
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons
Breyre A, Frazee BW. Skin and soft tissue infections in the emergency department. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2018;36(4):723-750.
Skin abscesses, furuncles, and carbuncles. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/skin-abscesses-furuncles-and-carbuncles. Accessed September 30, 2021.
Surgical site infection—prevention. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/prevention/surgical-site-infection-prevention. Accessed September 30, 2021.
Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD Last Updated: 9/30/2021