Abscesses; Sterile or Infected?

An abscess on the skin, showing the redness an...

An abscess on the skin, showing the redness, swelling & characteristic blackish ring surrounding the head.

Identification, Treatment and Prevention

Abscesses are something most of us have encountered before and they can be excruciatingly painful. Sympathetic medical care can be hard to come by for many of us who use drugs and so some people resort to treating themselves. 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….

Abscesses present themselves as raised lumps on the skin and can either be sterile or infected.

Many drug injectors will have an abcess at some stage in their inecting careers but it is by no means a certainty – they can be prevented.

A sterile abscess is caused by injecting either an irritating or insoluble substance into a vein – particularly so if you miss the vein and your drugs leak into the muscle / skin area. It may develop slowly and 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 but generally will not be sore to the touch. Don’t try to squeeze or poke it as it will usually go away in its own time ( although this can take quite a while and it may look pretty ugly.) See ‘What’s in an Abscess’ for what happens if you decide to squeeze…

An infected abscess, on the other hand, is a different story. 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. 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 giving you blood poisoning.

If you want to know what inside your abscess – here’s a little insight – For the remaining article, which appeared in Black Poppy issue 2, click here.

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