Abscess Drainage

An abscess is a mass caused by a bacterial infection; it forms when a cavity fills with pus, which is a combination of dead tissue, white blood cells and bacteria. Although an abscess can develop anywhere (sometimes as a postsurgical complication), moist areas such as the armpits, groin, tailbone region (pilonidal cyst) and mouth (dental abscess) are particularly susceptible. Although some drain on their own, many abscesses require medical intervention.

Reasons for Abscess Drainage

Usually, an abscess is only surgically drained when more conservative methods, such as applying hot compresses or taking antibiotics, have not worked. If an abscess enlarges or becomes increasingly painful, it must be drained promptly to avoid the danger of systemic infection (sepsis), which is life-threatening.

Abscess-Drainage Procedure

If an abscess is in the mouth or on the skin's surface, a local anesthetic is usually administered. A surgical incision is then made in the abscess, and it is drained and thoroughly cleansed of infected material.

If the abscess is internal, however, an imaging test, such as an ultrasound, CT scan or MRI scan, may be used to locate it, and define its borders. Once located, the abscess is typically drained with an aspiration needle but, because it is likely to refill, surgery, which is performed under general anesthesia, is usually also necessary.

In either case, abscess drainage requires a complete elimination of the infected material. Fluid aspirated during a drainage procedure is sent for laboratory analysis to pinpoint the type of bacteria involved so that the appropriate antibiotic can be prescribed.

Risks of Abscess Drainage

With any surgical procedure, even one as minor as abscess drainage, there are risks, which include the following:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Adverse reaction contrast dye used in diagnostic testing
  • Adverse reaction to anesthesia
  • Sepsis

There is also the possibility that an abscess will reoccur, even after a seemingly successful surgical procedure.

Additional Resources