Abscess from Shooting Up

Many people who inject drugs into their bodies for recreation are at risk of developing a host of bacterial skin infections, like abscesses. These abscesses can heal on their own, but in extreme cases, untreated abscesses can lead to toxic sepsis, amputation of the affected limb or even death. There are colonies of natural bacteria that live on the skin together with other debris that get introduced into the layers of the skin when a needle is used to puncture the skin. This leads to an inflamed abscess.

What Is an Abscess from Shooting up?

An abscess is a painful, red and tender sore full of pus. It can range from mildly painful to extremely painful as it progresses. Towards the end of a spontaneously-healing abscess, it comes to a point where it can rupture, expelling the pus it contains. This anti-inflammatory response by the body is an attempt to get rid of the foreign contaminants. There are two types of abscesses that drug users who shoot up can experience:

1. Sterile Abscess

A sterile abscess is a non-infected lesion caused by the insoluble ingredients of the substance being injected. Non-absorbed drug remains at the injection site and cause sufficient irritation to form an abscess. Usually pus does not develop in this type of abscesses, but they become hard and solid when scaring. Pain will be dependent on the volume of trapped substance in the skin.

2. Infected Abscess

This type of abscess can develop when normal skin bacteria are introduced under the skin or when using infected needles. This swollen lump on the skin shows the classic signs of inflammation such as being red and very painful. The point becomes visibly filled with pus.

What Are the Symptoms of Abscess from Shooting up?

When you introduce a foreign entity like bacteria or the insoluble component of the drug into the skin, the body’s immune system tries to get rid of it to keep the body safe and healthy. The immune system attempts to seal off the contaminated area. White blood cells aggregate to the infected site and digest the contaminant with enzymes. The products of this breakdown can then be eliminated by the body. This process initiates an inflammatory response which includes:

  • Increased blood flow to the affected area
  • A higher temperature in that area
  • Redness and swelling with increased fluids
  • Pain
  • Containing pus
  • Fever if the infection spreads to deeper tissues

When to Seek Medical Attention

  • If the lesion is more than 1 cm in diameter
  • If the abscess progressively becomes larger and more painful and you see no improvement within 5-7 days
  • When the abscess occurs in the groin or anal region
  • If you develop a high fever
  • If you notice a red streak radiating away from the infected site
  • When your immune system is compromised due to an existing medical condition like chronic intravenous drug abuse, alcoholism, AIDS, diabetes or cancer

 How to Treat Abscess from Shooting up

Home Care

Home remedies are attempted only if the abscess is small i.e. less than 1 cm in diameter.

  • Apply regular warm compresses to the infected site. If you opt to use washcloths soaked in warm water, remember to either discard the washcloths or wash them in very hot water after use because the bacteria from the abscess is highly infectious both to yourself and others.
  • Soaking in Epsom salt baths is thought to draw out the toxins and promote healing. Do not use this method if you’re allergic to sulphur or are diabetic.
  • Refrain from squeezing the lesion which will only worsen the infected area.
  • Avoid using a sharp object to release the pus because it may cause the infection to spread.
  • Use over-the-counter pain tablets to relieve the pain.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after handling the abscess. Also remember to launder any clothing, towel and bedding that have been in contact with the abscess.
  • If you notice any streaks around the abscess, seek medical attention because the infection may have spread.

If home care fails to heal the abscess, see your medical professional because consequences of an untreated skin bacterial infection are serious.

Medical Treatments

After a full medical history and physical examination, the doctor will choose how to proceed with treatment:

  • Antibiotics and painkillers may be an option of treatment.
  • The doctor may decide to drain the abscess. You will be given a local anesthetic to numb the area and also a sedative if the infected area is large.
  • The area will be disinfected and the doctor will use a sterile implement to lance the abscess and drain all the pus away. Appropriate dressings will be applied to minimize bleeding and promote healing.
  • Usually the pain of the abscess disappears once the pus has been drained but pain from the lancing is normal and you may be prescribed some pain tablets to control the pain.
  • You should follow the doctor’s instructions carefully for homecare of the wound to prevent further infection.

How to Prevent Abscess from Shooting up

  1. Use new and sterile equipment. Use an alcohol pad to disinfect the site prior to injecting.
  2. Rotate injection sites to give your skin a chance to heal.
  3. Wash hands both before and after you shoot up with antibacterial soap from a pump container rather than a bar of soap. Let your hands air-dry to prevent any contamination from dirty hand towels.
  4. If you have any open wounds at your injection sites, take immediate care of them to prevent infection. Keep them covered with clean and sterile dressings.
  5. Keep your injection sites clean and dry to prevent the normal skin bacteria from proliferating in dirty, hot and sweaty folds on the skin.
  6. Throw away any old and used wound dressings in a tightly sealed bag.
  7. Do not share any personal items like razors, towels and sheets.
  8. Try not to miss the vein because this is a guaranteed way to form an abscess.
  9. Avoid re-using a syringe but if you have to, clean and disinfect them properly.
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