Ultrasound-Guided Drainage for Pediatric Soft Tissue Abscesses Decreases Clinical Failure Rates Compared to Drainage Without Ultrasound: A Retrospective Study

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Emergency Medicine

Publication Date


Document Type



Emergency Medicine


OBJECTIVES: Soft tissue abscesses are common in the pediatric emergency department (ED). Ultrasound (US) can be used to both diagnose soft tissue abscesses as well as guide drainage. We hypothesized that clinical failure rates would be less in pediatric patients with suspected skin abscesses when evaluated with US.

METHODS: We performed a retrospective review of suspected pediatric skin abscesses at 4 EDs over a 22-month period. Cases were identified through electronic medical record descriptions, discharge diagnoses, and US database records. Data on US use, findings, and outcomes were abstracted to an electronic database. Comparisons between groups included US versus non-US (primary outcome) as well as surgical drainage vs nonsurgical drainage (secondary outcome).

RESULTS: A total of 377 patients were seen with concern for a potential skin abscess; 141 patients (37.4%) underwent US imaging during their visit, and 239 (63.4%) underwent incision and drainage (IandD) during their ED stay: 90 with US and 149 without. The failure rate for patients evaluated with US was significantly lower than that for those evaluated without US (4.4% versus 15.6%; P < .005). Thirty-four (11.3%) of the 302 patients with a diagnosis of an abscess failed therapy: 19 (8.2%) after IandD and 15 (21.1%) after nonsurgical management. Failure after IandD was associated with a smaller abscess cavity on US imaging (17.2 versus 44.8 mm3 ; P < .05).

CONCLUSIONS: The use of US for patients with a suspected skin abscess was associated with a reduction in the amount of clinical failure rates after both surgical drainage and nonsurgical therapy. Ultrasound should be used when evaluating or treating patients with abscesses.


abscess, point-of-care ultrasound, soft tissue ultrasound, ultrasound-guided drainage

DOI of Published Version



J Ultrasound Med. 2017 Jul 21. doi: 10.1002/jum.14318. [Epub ahead of print] Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Journal of ultrasound in medicine : official journal of the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID