Abscesses – A Major Update

Identification, Treatment and Prevention

Abscesses are something most of us have encountered before and they can be everything from hardly noticeable, to extremely painful. Medical care can be hard to come by for many of us around the world who inject drugs and so some people resort to treating themselves, for reasons of cost, access, stigma or fear. This can lead to some serious complications as the toxicity of an abscess can vary considerably. Here are a few things to remember when it comes to getting to grips with an abscess -and whether you can really treat it yourself.  Yes, you may think you know what to do if you have an abscess, but there is new guidance in terms of treating them these days, to ‘pack or not to pack’ , antibiotics everytime or just some of the time? Yes, this is a big article and has had a major update, and we will edit it down in the coming weeks, but for now here is all the information we have collected to help you make the most important decision -when to get help. Yes, it is worth reading the whole thing if you are concerned about abscesses, or at least read the summary!

A fairly typical large abscess on a heroin user who seemed to have skin popped heroin.

A fairly typical large sized infected abscess on a heroin user who is said to have skin popped heroin recently.


here is one where it was recommended to just cut and drain, and not necessarily dispense antibiotics

This is a pic of an infected abscess, but one where it was only recommended to just cut and drain, and not necessarily dispense antibiotics.

A Sterile Abscess is caused by injecting either an irritating or insoluble substance into a vein – and if some of the cut in your drugs are insoluble, a sterile abscess is sometimes formed. It is basically a milder form of the same process of an infected abscess, caused not by germs this time but by nonliving irritants such as drugs. If an injected drug is not absorbed, it stays where it was injected and may cause enough irritation to generate a sterile abscess—sterile because there is no infection involved. Sterile abscesses are quite likely to turn into hard, solid lumps as they scar, rather than remaining pockets of pus. It will not usually show signs of heat although there may be a touch of redness and it can feel like a solid nodule under the skin and isn’t likely to be sore. Soreness will depend on the volume of substance under the skin. Don’t try to squeeze or poke it as it will usually go away in its own time and squeezing it could induce an infection.

A Septic or  an Infected Abscess can occur anywhere in the body. In the injecting community in which we are referring to here, these can be caused by either using non-sterile injecting equipment or by bacteria from your skin entering under the skin via the injecting process. An infected abscess will soon come up as a swollen lump on or near the injection site. Appearing inflamed and red, it feels hot to the touch and soon becomes very painful. The abscess may come to a ‘head’ or ‘point’ and be filled with pus. Sometimes a deep abscess will eat a small channel (sinus) to the surface and begin leaking pus. It can be tempting to squeeze or burst it now – but DON’T! This will only spread the infection, driving it deeper and wider, and it could head for the bloodstream making you very ill by giving you blood poisoning which can be fatal!

For a much more in depth look, click here for the rest of the article which covers topics such as Antibiotics -Yes or No?, Prevention, Treatment, Home Treatment, click here.

For information concerning users of steroids and performance enhancing drugs, and abscess, click here.

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