First-Aid: Self-Help for Abscess

This section is not meant to be a medical encyclopaedia, nor a way of making the reader into a professor of medicine overnight! The subjects covered are basically those which, whilst not life-threatening, can be distressing, painful or simply worrying until you can get medical help. If you suffer from longstanding arthritis or bad breath, the chances are that you will have to come to terms with it, find a satisfactory treatment or at least be prepared to seek non urgent’ medical advice.

All the conditions covered here are sufficiently worrying in the short term to constitute an emergency — but not in the usually accepted sense of the word. If an epileptic friend has a simple fit, for example, it would be reassuring to know what to do (and what not to do), then you would not panic.

This section is not meant to replace medical advice from your doctor but should enable you to do something useful while you are waiting for the doctor to visit or for an appointment at the hospital and may even prevent you going to the local casualty department with something you could treat yourself.

If you are in any serious doubt about any condition — call your doctor. Do not use this section to outwit, out-diagnose or replace him. Having said this though, it is the responsibility of each of us to do what we can to help ourselves and our families. If we all insisted on medical care for all of the things in this section, every :lme we had them, doctors would be completely overwhelmed. D.awing the line is always difficult but the following gives you guidance on this too.


A bad spot or boil containing pus anywhere on the body The treatment for any collection of pus is to let it out. Nature will do this eventually but in the meantime it can be painful and inconvenient to wait. If the abscess is on the face or hands it can be dangerous as well as painful. Always get medical help early for abscesses in these areas and never interfere with them.

For other abscesses, draw the pus out by applying a hot water bottle to the area over a simple dressing and keep it covered afterwards with a fresh, dry dressing. Doctors always say you should not squeeze a pimple but people do it everyday and come to no harm. When there is a definite white or yellow ‘head’ to an abscess or boil you can squeeze it after washing your hands thoroughly. Never squeeze so hard as to damage the surrounding skin and if the head does not come out easily, stop, wait another day and try again if necessary.

Never dig around with a needle, penknife or similar instrument. If the pus would not come out on its own, see a doctor.

Never use waterproof dressings such as nylon fingerstalls or occlusive adhesive dressings because the bacteria in the abscess grow especially well under such wet, warm conditions and can spread to cause a wider and more serious infection of the tissues around the boil.

If you think the boil is spreading or if you notice any thin red lines in the skin surrounding an abscess, get medical help.

Always seek medical help for any abscess that is interfering with the use of a joint.

Never take the odd couple of antibiotic capsules or tablets that you happen to have in the medicine chest as this can lead to half-treated infections that never properly clear up. If you need antibiotics, your doctor will prescribe a proper course. Badly and half-treated abscesses can readily be troublesome for a very long time. If you take a few left-over tablets or stop a proper course early, you may permit the infection to flare up again and it may not respond to that medicine the second time around.

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