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What Is Phlegmon?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A phlegmon is an area of inflammation in the body that exudes pus and other fluids. This typically develops as a result of an infection and can create serious medical complications. The inflammation may spread to neighboring organs and lead to systemic compromise, for example, or the patient's tissue could become so inflamed that it starts to become necrotic. Tissue necrosis, where soft tissue dies, can potentially lead to the need for amputation or other invasive treatment measures.

Patients develop phlegmonous inflammation when microorganisms start to colonize the soft tissue. This causes inflammation as the body attempts to fight them, and can lead to the production of pus and other exudate. The phlegmon may feel hot and tender to the touch, and the surface skin often has a reddish, irritated appearance. Patients may also notice swelling and a strong odor along with the irritation.

These areas of inflammation can appear in superficial or deep tissue. They may develop in association with a chronic disease or can appear independently. Bacteria are usually the cause, and the patient may develop an abscess, or a collection of pus trapped inside the body. First line treatment for a phlegmon involves medications to cut the inflammation and treat the infection. The patient may also need compresses or procedures to remove exudate if it does not drain freely.

If the condition is not addressed, it can spread and cause a systemic infection. Phlegmonous inflammations just below the surface of the skin can turn into cellulitis. The spreading inflammation can also be accompanied by immune compromise. Patients may develop a high fever, nausea, and fatigue as the inflammation spreads and their bodies become less able to fight off infection. This can allow the inflammation to spread even more rapidly and may expose the patient to the risk of secondary infections.

Medical treatment is advisable when inflammation does not resolve after taking common sense measures like resting, icing the site, and taking medications known to reduce inflammation. If inflammation is accompanied by pus, an altered level of consciousness, or rapidly spreading signs of infection, it is a cause for concern and the patient needs to see a doctor. The doctor can perform a physical examination and use a medical imaging study to learn more about what is happening inside the body. It is important to be aware that a phlegmon may be internal, and thus outward symptoms like flushing may not be present.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By anon998226 — On Apr 27, 2017

My husband developed a phlegmon infection after a second colon surgery. It wasn't caught until months later when the fevers got so high he ended up in the hospital. They did another surgery to remove the infection, only to find it was so close to vital organs that they wouldn't be able to put a drain tube in. They also removed his colon. We have been fighting the infection ever since. He sees a infection disease doctor now. They only can control the fevers with antibiotics.

By anon340178 — On Jun 30, 2013

Our six month old daughter started out with a mild fever which we thought was related to teething. After 24 hours, we noticed a large swelling behind her jaw and in front of her ear. We suspected the swelling was related to a bug bite. After 12 hours, the swelling became very large, hot and painful for her. We took her to the Children's Hospital. They said the infection was severe and involved a lymph node. The lymphadenitis was described as a phlegmon. After two days of I.V. antibiotics (Unasyn), surgery was performed to help it drain. She's on the mend, but this could be very scary, if not deadly. Bad stuff.

By orangey03 — On Aug 19, 2011

My friend had a phlegmon abscess on her leg. She had banged her shin really hard against the low rung of a shopping cart, so she thought that it was just a bruise and sore spot from that.

As time went on, the area became hot and sensitive when touched. It felt mushy and oozed a bit of fluid.

She tried taking ibuprofen and applying ice packs to it. Eventually, she started to feel sick all over.

Her doctor injected a steroid into the area, and she started improving immediately. That was all it took to get rid of the phlegmon.

By OeKc05 — On Aug 19, 2011

My husband developed a phlegmon after getting bitten by a spider. He didn’t even know he had been bitten at first. It just started out as a red bump.

As he scratched it, the area developed a hole. The hole kept growing bigger, and it had pus oozing out of it. He finally went to the doctor.

She had to give him a local anesthetic and dig the area out. She scraped down inches deep to get all the pus and infection scooped out, and then she stuffed the area with gauze.

He had to go back to her to have the dressing changed. He said that he felt intense pain while she was shoving new gauze in the wound.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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