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Sterile Abscess After a Shot: How to Care for Your Child

An abscess is a buildup of fluid under the skin that feels like a soft lump. It usually happens when a skin infection develops and cells gather to fight bacteria, forming a collection of pus. A different type of abscess, called a "sterile abscess," may develop after an injection (shot). It's called "sterile" because there is no infection or bacteria; it is full of fluid only. Sometimes the health care provider drains the fluid from the abscess.

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  • Follow the health care provider's directions for keeping the area around the abscess clean.

  • You can give medicine for pain if your health care provider says it's OK. Use these medicines exactly as directed:

    • acetaminophen (such as Tylenol® or a store brand)

    • OR

    • ibuprofen (such as Advil®, Motrin®, or a store brand). Do not give to babies under 6 months old.

  • If the abscess starts draining on its own or if the health care provider drained it, soak the area in warm water for 10 minutes (3–4 times a day) to help it finish draining. 

    • Lower the body part with the abscess into a tub of warm, soapy water. OR

    • Place a clean, warm, wet washcloth on the abscess. 

    • Stop the soaks when there is no more drainage.

  • Cover the open or draining abscess with clean gauze or a bandage. Change the gauze or bandage if it gets dirty or wet.

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Your child:

  • has pain, redness, or swelling around the abscess

  • has fluid draining from the abscess for longer than a few days

  • has fluid that builds up again after the abscess was drained

  • has a fever or chills

  • develops red streaks around the abscess

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Why do some people get a sterile abscess after a shot? A sterile abscess can form when an injected medicine doesn't get fully absorbed into the body. Or it can happen if a child is sensitive to part of the medicine, causing a reaction that leads to fluid buildup.

Does a sterile abscess always have to drain? A sterile abscess might go away on its own. This can happen when a soft lump shrinks as the fluid slowly goes away, or when the fluid drains out by itself. 

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