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Abscess

When to Seek Medical Care

Call your doctor if any of the following occur with an abscess:

  • You have a sore larger than 1 cm or a half-inch across.
  • The sore continues to enlarge or becomes more painful.
  • The sore is on or near your rectal or groin area.
  • You have a fever of 101.5°F or higher.
  • You have a red streak going away from the abscess.
  • You have any of the conditions listed above.

Go to a hospital’s Emergency Department if any of these conditions occur with an abscess:

  • Fever of 102°F or higher, especially if you have a chronic disease or are on steroids, chemotherapy, or dialysis
  • A red streak leading away from the sore or with tender lymph nodes (lumps) in an area anywhere between the abscess and your chest area (for example, an abscess on your leg can cause swollen lymph nodes in your groin area)
  • Any facial abscess larger than 1 cm or a half-inch across

Exams and Tests

The doctor will take a medical history and ask for information about the following:

  • How long the abscess has been present
  • If you recall any injury to that area
  • What medicines you may be taking
  • If you have any allergies
  • If you have had a fever at home
  • The doctor will examine the abscess and surrounding areas. If it is near your anus, the doctor will perform a rectal exam. If an arm or leg is involved, the doctor will feel for a lymph gland either in your groin or under your arm.

Medical Treatment

The doctor may open and drain the abscess.

  • The area around the abscess will be numbed with medication.
    • It is often difficult to completely numb the area, but in general local anesthesia can make the procedure almost painless.
    • You may be given some type of sedative if the abscess is large.
  • The area will be covered with an antiseptic solution and sterile towels placed around it.
  • The doctor will cut open the abscess and totally drain it of pus and debris.
  • Once the sore has drained, the doctor will insert some packing into the remaining cavity to minimize any bleeding and keep it open for a day or two.
    • A bandage will then be placed over the packing, and you will be given instructions about home care.
    • Most people feel better immediately after the abscess is drained.
    • If you are still experiencing pain, the doctor may prescribe pain pills for home use over the next 1-2 days.

Next Steps: Follow-up

Follow carefully any instructions your doctor gives you.

  • The doctor may have you remove the packing yourself with instructions on the best way to do this. This may include soaking or flushing.
  • Be sure to keep all follow-up appointments.
  • Report any fever, redness, swelling, or increased pain to your doctor immediately.

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