Abscess incision and drainage in the emergency department--Part I

J Emerg Med. 1985;3(3):227-32. doi: 10.1016/0736-4679(85)90077-0.


Superficial abscesses are commonly seen in the emergency department. In most cases, they can be adequately treated by the emergency physician without hospital admission. Treatment consists of surgical drainage with the addition of antibiotics in selected cases. Incision is generally performed using local anesthesia, with intraoperative and postoperative systemic analgesia. Care must be taken to make a surgically appropriate incision that allows adequate drainage without injuring important structures. Postoperative care includes warm soaks, drains or wicks, analgesia, and close follow-up. Antibiotics are usually unnecessary. Complications of incision and drainage include damage to adjacent structures, bacteremic complications, misdiagnosis of such entities as mycotic aneurysms, and spread of infection owing to inadequate drainage. The infectious agents responsible for abscess formation are numerous and depend largely on the anatomic location of the abscess. Staphylococcus aureus accounts for less than half of all cutaneous abscesses. Anaerobic bacteria are common etiologic agents in the perineum and account for the majority of all cutaneous abscesses. Abscesses at specific locations involve special consideration for diagnosis and treatment and may require specialty consultation.

MeSH terms

  • Abscess / complications
  • Abscess / diagnosis
  • Abscess / drug therapy
  • Abscess / surgery*
  • Bacteria, Aerobic / isolation & purification
  • Bacteria, Anaerobic / isolation & purification
  • Cellulitis / diagnosis
  • Clindamycin / therapeutic use
  • Drainage / methods*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Metronidazole / therapeutic use
  • Postoperative Complications
  • Skin Diseases / diagnosis
  • Suppuration / microbiology


  • Metronidazole
  • Clindamycin