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Technique of incision and drainage for skin abscess

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


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 "Cellulitis and skin abscess in adults: Treatment" and "Suspected Staphylococcus aureus and streptococcal skin and soft tissue infections in children >28 days: Evaluation and management", section on 'Purulent/fluctuant SSTI'.)


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.

Carbuncle — A carbuncle is a coalescence of several inflamed follicles into a single inflammatory mass with purulent drainage from multiple follicles (picture 2).

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Oct 02, 2017.
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