Letter Re: How to Drain an Abscess

Mr Rawles,
The letter from Lonestar Doc about skin abscesses is both appropriate and essential. I would like to add a few points that may not have been clear.

1. Never squeeze (pinching between fingers with force) an abscess trying to get it to pop (remember your mother’s admonishments about pimples?) Squeezing may be successful in getting pus to come out, but you force the bacteria and toxins into deeper tissues and possibly blood vessels which may cause distant secondary infections. In certain areas like the face, it could be a lethal complication. If an area seems to be draining, Gently push (“palpate”) down on either side of the area – if more fluid drains then continue to use other conservative methods or get definitive drainage.

2. If an area is red and hard, but not yet full of fluid (“fluctuant”) and if the origin is bacterial, it will become an abscess without treatment, whether antibiotics or drainage. But if there’s nothing to drain yet, what do you do? Go ask your grandparents – in drug stores of the past a staple item was “drawing salve” – something that you smeared on the affected area and cover with a bandage. After a few days the area would drain pus, relieving the problem. Medically, what is occurring is that the white cells in the area are being encouraged to migrate to the surface where the salve is applied, liquefying and thinning out the overlying skin until the area can drain naturally. This prevents the abscess from extending into deeper tissues with all the associated risk. Drawing salves are over the counter and can still be found today or ordered by the pharmacist. They have names like coal tar salve, homeopathic drawing salve, and a brand name is Ichthammol Drawing Salve Ointment, available on Amazon.com.

3. Hot compresses – a tried and true method for treating infections in the skin, simply take folded cloths in hot, but not boiling, water and apply them to the area. When the cloth becomes room temperature, place a fresh one. The hot, moist cloth increases blood flow and again encourages the white cells to get to the surface instead of deeper, and the abscess will drain with time and patience.

Abscesses are serious business even today, and before the antibiotic era accounted for significant amounts of deaths and morbidity; in short, an untreated scratch could literally kill you, if the infection migrated to the vital organs. With careful attention to keeping clean and not ignoring the early signs you will improve your chances significantly. – Doctor Prepper