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Technique of incision and drainage for skin abscess

Rana Kronfol, MD
Kathleen A Downey, MD
Section Editors
Anne M Stack, MD
Sheldon L Kaplan, MD
Allan B Wolfson, MD
Deputy Editor
James F Wiley, II, MD, MPH


Approximately 2 percent of emergency department visits are for the evaluation of skin abscesses. Most lesions are caused by Staphylococcus aureus [1-3], and many of these patients undergo incision and drainage.

The differential diagnosis and procedure for incision and drainage of skin abscesses will be reviewed here. The epidemiology, microbiology, treatment, and prevention of skin abscess are discussed separately. (See "Skin abscesses, furuncles, and carbuncles".)


Skin abscesses can be differentiated from folliculitis, furuncles, and carbuncles as follows:

Folliculitis — Folliculitis is a superficial bacterial infection of the hair follicles with purulent material in the epidermis (picture 1).

Furuncle — A furuncle is a well-circumscribed, painful, suppurative inflammatory nodule involving hair follicles that usually arises from preexisting folliculitis. A furuncle can occur at any site that contains hair follicles, especially in regions that are subject to friction and maceration (eg, face, neck, axillae, groin, thighs, and buttocks). The lesion may extend into the dermis and subcutaneous tissues and often serves as a nidus for cellulitis and skin abscess.


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Jan 19, 2016.
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