Abscess Drainage

An abscess is a mass caused by a bacterial infection. While abscesses can occur anywhere on the body, especially in a region where surgery has recently been performed, they often occur in moist areas such as the armpits, groin, tailbone region (pilonidal cysts), or mouth (dental abscesses). An abscess is formed when the cavity fills with pus, a combination of dead tissue, white blood cells, and bacteria. Although some abscesses drain on their own, many require medical intervention in the form of drainage.

Reasons for an Abscess Drainage

Usually, abscesses are only surgically drained if they cannot be coaxed to drain on their own using more conservative methods, such as the application of hot compresses or the administration of antibiotics. If the abscess enlarges or becomes more painful, however, it must be drained promptly to avoid the danger of systemic infection, known as 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 normally administered and a surgical incision is made at the site in order for the abscess to drain and be thoroughly cleansed of infected material.

If the abscess is internal, however, an imaging test, such as an ultrasound, CT 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, since it is likely to refill, surgery is usually necessary as well. This operation is usually performed under general anesthesia.

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

Risks of Abscess Drainage

With any surgical procedure, even this relatively minor one, there are risks. The risks of abscess drainage include:

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

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

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