Abscess Management: An Evidence-Based Review for Emergency Medicine Clinicians

Samantha Menegas, Siamak Moayedi, Mercedes Torres
Journal of Emergency Medicine 2021, 60 (3): 310-320

BACKGROUND: Abscesses are commonly evaluated and managed in the emergency department. Recent research has evaluated the use of ultrasonography, packing, incision and drainage (I&D), and antibiotics. There are evidence-based nuances to the management of specific types of abscesses, such as Bartholin, breast, dental, hidradenitis suppurativa, peritonsillar, and pilonidal abscesses.

OBJECTIVE: This review provides emergency medicine clinicians with a summary of the current literature regarding abscess management in the emergency department.

DISCUSSION: Ultrasound is valuable in diagnosing abscesses that are not clinically evident and in guiding I&D procedures. Although I&D is traditionally followed by packing, this practice may be unnecessary for small abscesses. Antibiotics, needle aspiration, and loop drainage are suitable alternatives to I&D of abscesses with certain characteristics. Oral antibiotics can improve outcomes after I&D, although this improvement must be weighed against potential risks. Many strategies are useful in managing Bartholin abscesses, with the Word catheter proving consistently effective. Needle aspiration is the recommended first-line therapy for small breast abscesses. Dental abscesses are often diagnosed with clinical examination alone, but ultrasound may be a useful adjunct. Acute abscess formation caused by hidradenitis suppurativa should be managed surgically by excision when possible, because I&D has a high rate of abscess recurrence. Peritonsillar abscesses can be diagnosed with either intraoral or transcervical ultrasound if clinical examination is inconclusive. Needle aspiration and I&D are both suitable for the management of peritonsillar abscesses. Pilonidal abscesses have traditionally been managed with I&D, but needle aspiration with antibiotics may be a suitable alternative.

CONCLUSIONS: This review evaluates the recent literature surrounding abscess management for emergency medicine clinicians.

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