This article details the unfortunate experience I had of a sebaceous cyst on my back becoming infected while I was travelling through Europe on vacation. I ended up being mostly confined to bed for some 3 weeks. I realise the pictures may seem a little graphic, and not particularly pleasant to look at, however I am publishing them because I found very little information online regarding the successful self- treatment of an infected sebaceous cyst, and I hope this will be useful to someone else who finds themselves in a similar situation. I found that a cyst can be treated from home, and that it is not necessary to have it removed surgically, or have it injected with a corticosteroid or steroid to kill the infection, nor did I need to take antibiotics – although in retrospect surgery would have been a relatively painless option compared with extracting the cyst naturally. The picture below shows the cyst on my back in the early stages of the infection, it had become quite inflamed and painful, however the worst was still to come…
What is a Sebaceous Cyst?
A sebaceous cyst is not such a scary thing, It’s basically like a giant blackhead under the skins surface. Mine took the form of a small, reasonably solid lump on my back, although it had grown somewhat since I first discovered it a few years ago. When I first found it I was obviously concerned, however a visit to my doctor relieved me somewhat, I was informed that the chances of the lump being something other than a benign sebaceous cyst were 1 in a million, and that the cyst itself just contained a natural, fatty oily substance called keratin, trapped below the surface of the skin. My doctor said she could remove it easily, a shot of anaesthetic, a quick slice of the scalpel and she’d have it out in 5 minutes. My doctor also told me that most of the time a sebaceous cyst can just be left untreated, sometimes they even go away naturally. She counselled if it wasn’t really bothering me I could just leave it, so I did. Although in retrospect I wish I had taken her up on the surgery, as the cyst becoming infected while travelling was a far more painful and drawn out process of removal.
Fast forward 2 years to my trip to Europe and the cyst had grown slightly bigger over this period of time. I was in my last week exploring the Island of Crete in Greece when the lump started to get a little sore and painful. A friend whom I was travelling with had an apartment in Bucharest, Romania, and feeling a bit poorly and sorry for myself I decided to head there a little ahead of schedule in case things got worse, and I’m glad I did!
Within a day or two of arriving my back had turned into a volcano, and I was in a world of pain!
Infected Sebaceous Cyst Pictures
Sebaceous Cyst Treatment
In my particular situation it was quite difficult to get medical treatment for my cyst, I had just arrived in Romania and it was a few days before Christmas. I didn’t speak the language, and although I had a friend with me who could translate I was still plagued by visions of a foreign doctor pulling out his scalpel and advancing mercilessly towards my back muttering things I could not understand while I pleaded with him not to cut me. With this image in mind I decided to go for the self-treatment option and ride it out as best I could. It should be noted I was prepared to go to the doctor if things got any worse than they were, if I developed a fever, or if the infection appeared to spread beyond the localised area. My Romanian friend supported this thinking, but was also not keen to see me at the doctor or the hospital unless it became absolutely necessary – a relative of hers has passed away in hospital due to infection after an operation, and she thought it was probably attributed to poor hygiene standards. All of this made me very nervous about getting any medical treatment at all while abroad.
The home treatment involved placing a hot water bottle on my back regularly throughout the day for approximately 15 minutes per session. Some days I would do this 5 or 6 times and other days once or twice, depending on my energy levels. Once the sebaceous cyst started to drain I stopped the heat treatment almost completely.
The other major component of the treatment was “drawing cream”, a paste which can be applied as a salve, and containing an ingredient such as magnesium sulphate or ichthammol. This should be available from your local pharmacy, just ask for “ichthammol” cream. This stuff really is magic, my back had become so swollen and painful I could barely move, and I really wanted whatever was inside the lump to come out – I applied the ichthammol cream and within 15 minutes the cyst started to drain, at first a clear liquid which was followed by many semi-hard white lumps which were the contents of the cyst. Unfortunately the process of extracting all of the contents of the cyst took some 10 days with the cyst flaring up and then receding numerous times. This may be unusual and I would be interested to hear in the comments what other people who have suffered this have to say. For me the lump would go down and a scab would form over the area – I would then think I was almost home free, but some residue must have remained and the lump would flare up again the next day and more liquid and pieces of white keratin (the cyst) would come out.
Below is a macro-shot of some of the semi-hard white lumps that came out of the swollen lump on my back.
From beginning to end the cyst took some 3 weeks to fully clear up, this is counting the days in the beginning when it became painful, right through to the final pieces of the cyst coming out and the inflammation going down to an acceptable level. It does not include healing time as I still have a wound on my back that needs to heal at the time of this writing.
However the great news is that the cyst on my back is completely gone! The skins is smooth and there is nothing that can be felt below the surface. No surgery was needed, and from what I can see currently there is no sign of scarring, which would have been inevitable under the knife. The inflammation has receded to the point I can lie on my back, and there is barely any pain or discomfort.
As an afterthought I should mention that panadol or ibuprofen are good to have on hand, and certainly helped to ease the pain when I needed to sleep. Whisky was also good…
I hope this is helpful to anyone who finds themselves, or a friend, in similar circumstances.