An abscess is a skin and soft tissue infection that can occur on any part of the body, but most commonly occurs on the axillae, buttocks, and extremities. They are collections of bacteria and inflammatory cells (pus) that the body creates in response to bacterial invasion and growth.
These infections are opportunistic, meaning that bacteria enter through breaks in the skin (ie. Ingrown hair or small cut) and multiply, eventually forming a walled off collection of pus and inflammatory cells. Initially they may present as a tender red nodule that may grow in size over time. Eventually, as fluid and bacteria collect, the central part of the lesion may form a head. Ruptured cysts on the back can often present as an abscesses as well.
The proper treatment of an abscess is by a procedure called Incision and Drainage (I+D). This procedure is done in the office setting under local anesthesia. A bacterial culture is taken at this time to rule out any resistant strains of bacteria (MRSA). Antibiotics are often given following this procedure, but not always necessary.
Once the abscess is incised, the contents are drained and sterile gauze is packed into the wound to allow drainage and prevent recollection of pus. This packing should be changed in the office every 2-3 days. The body begins to heal from the inside out and fill in the pocket where the abscess was. After about one week the packing is completely removed so the wound can heal completely.
- Keep area clean and dry. You may gently clean the area with soap and water , or with dilute hydrogen peroxide solution and a Q-tip (1:1 dilution). Apply a new bandage to the area, being cautious not to remove the sterile packing gauze.
- Return to the clinic in 2-3 days to have wound re-evaluated and packing changed.
- Extra Strength Tylenol (over the counter) can be taken for pain.
- It is not recommended to swim until the area has sealed over.
HOW CAN I PREVENT A SKIN OR SOFT TISSUE ABSCESS FROM OCCURING IN THE FUTURE?
- If working out at public facilities be sure to wipe down machines and exercise equipment before and after use
- Change out of damp workout clothes ASAP and shower post workouts or heavy sweating
- If a break in the skin occurs, or irritated/ingrown hair follicle, clean the area as soon as possible
- Apply warm compress to areas that appear to be forming an abscess (3 times daily x 10 minutes) and see your Dermatologist as soon as possible