Also known as a boil or carbuncle
A localized staphylococcal skin infection originating in a gland or hair follicle and characterized by pain, redness, and swelling. Necrosis deep in the center of the inflamed areas forms a core of dead tissue that is spontaneously extruded, resorbed or surgically removed. It is important to avoid irritating or squeezing the lesion to prevent the spread of infection. Treatment may include antibiotics, local moist heat, and, when a hard white core is evident, it may require incision and drainage.
The main symptom is pain. This pain may become quite severe even though the boil is usually small. This is because of the location of the boil.
Other symptoms may include itch, irritation and sometimes a temporary hearing loss whilst the infection is present.
If the boil bursts, you may have a sudden discharge from the ear. If this happens, the pain often eases dramatically, and the symptoms soon settle.
Boils may heal on their own after a period of itching and mild pain. More often, they increase in discomfort as pus collects.
Boils usually must open and drain before they will heal. This usually occurs in less than 2 weeks.
- Warm, moist compresses help boils drain, which speeds healing. Gently soak the area with a warm, moist cloth several times each day.
- Never squeeze a boil or try to cut it open at home. This can spread the infection and make it worse.
- When the boil finally does burst and drain, continue to put warm, wet compresses on the area.
Deep or large boils may need to be drained with surgery by a health care provider. Treatment by a health care provider is needed if:
- A boil lasts longer than 2 weeks
- A boil comes back
- The boil is on the spine or the middle of the face
- The boil occurs with a fever or other symptoms, because the infection may spread and cause complications
Careful hygiene is important:
- Clean draining boils often.
- Wash your hands very well after touching a boil.
- Do not re-use or share washcloths or towels. Wash clothing, washcloths, towels, and sheets or other items that contact infected areas in very hot (preferably boiling) water.
- Change dressings often and throw them out with the drainage, such as by placing them in a bag that can be closed tightly before throwing it out.
Antibacterial soaps and antibiotics placed on the skin are of little help once a boil has formed. Antibiotics taken by mouth or given as a shot may help a more severe infection or if the boil returns.
Some people have repeated abscesses and are unable to prevent them.
Boils can be very painful if they occur in areas like the ear canal or nose. A health care provider should treat boils of the nose.
Boils that form close together may expand and join, causing a condition called carbunculosis.
- Abscess of the skin, spinal cord, brain, kidneys, or other organ
- Brain infection
- Permanent scarring
- Spinal cord infection
- Spread of infection to other parts of the body or skin surfaces
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if boils:
- Appear on the face or spine
- Come back
- Do not heal with home treatment within 1 week
- Occur along with a fever, red streaks coming out from the sore, large fluid collections around the boil, or other symptoms
The following may help prevent the spread of infection:
- Antibacterial soaps
- Antiseptic (germ-killing) washes
- Good hygiene (such as thorough handwashing)