A boil is a red, swollen, painful bump under the skin that is caused by an infection. Boils often start in an infected hair follicle. Bacteria form an abscess or pocket of pus. With time, the pus may come to a head and drain out through the skin. Boils can occur anywhere, but common sites include the face, neck, armpits, buttocks, groin, and thighs.
There are several types of boils: Furuncle or carbuncle—an abscess that is caused by bacteria, sometimes they occur as several boils in a groupPilonidal cyst—an abscess that occurs in the crease of the buttocks and almost always requires medical treatmentCystic acne—an abscess that occurs when oil ducts become clogged and infected, more common in the teenage yearsHidradenitis suppurativa—an uncommon disorder where multiple abscesses occur in the armpit and groin area
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Causes of boils may include: BacteriaIngrown hairSplinter or foreign object lodged in the skinBlocked sweat gland or oil duct
Factors that increase your chance of a boil include:
DiabetesEczemaPoor nutritionPoor hygieneWeakened immune systemExposure to harsh chemicalsSports or activities involving close personal contactObesity
A boil may cause: Skin lump or bump that is red, swollen, and tenderLump that becomes larger, more painful, and softer over timeA pocket of pus that may form on top of the boil
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. A bacterial culture of the boil may be taken.
Some boils do not need medical attention and may drain on their own. More serious symptoms from boils may require treatment. These include: The boil worsens, continues, or becomes large or severeYou have a feverThe skin around the boil turns red or red streaks appearThe boil does not drainAn additional boil or boils appearThe boil limits your normal activitiesThe boil is on your face, near your spine, or in the anal areaYou have diabetesYou develop many boils over several months
The boil can be drained if needed. The infection can be treated with antibiotics.
Home treatment may include:
Apply warm compresses to the boil for 20 minutes, 3-4 times a day. Depending on the area of the body affected, you may be able to soak the boil in warm water. These measures can ease the pain and help bring the pus to the surface. Repeated soaking will help the boil begin to drain.
Do not pop or lance the boil yourself. This can spread the infection and make it worse. If the boil does not drain on its own or it is large, you may need to have it drained or lanced by your doctor.
Whether the boil drains on its own or was lanced by a doctor, you must keep it clean. Wash it with antibacterial soap and apply a medicated ointment and bandage. Clean the affected area 2-3 times a day until the wound heals completely.
To help reduce your chance of a boil: Practice good hygiene. Wash boil-prone areas with soap and water or an antibacterial soap. Dry thoroughly.Clean and treat any minor skin wounds.Avoid clothing that is too tight.If you have eczema or diabetes, follow the treatment plan outlined by your doctor.
DermNet NZ website. Available at:
http://www.dermnetnz.org/bacterial/boils.html. Updated June 2014. Accessed August 5, 2015.
DermNet NZ website. Available at:
http://www.dermnetnz.org/acne/nodulocystic-acne.html. Updated February 2014. Accessed August 5, 2015.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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