Diseases & Conditions
An inﬂamed pus-ﬁlled section of skin (usually an infected hair follicle) found often on the back of the neck or moist areas such as the armpits and groin. A very large boil is called a CARBUNCLE.
Boils are usually caused by infection with the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, which invades the body through a break in the skin, where it infects a blocked oil gland or hair follicle. When the body’s immune system sends in white blood cells to kill the germs, the resulting inﬂammation produces pus.
A boil begins with a red, painful lump that swells as it ﬁlls with pus, until it becomes rounded with a yellowish tip. It may either continue to grow until it erupts, drains, and fades away, or it can be reabsorbed by the body. Recurrent boils may occur in people with known or unrecognized diabetes mellitus or other diseases involving lowered body resistance.
Bursting a boil might spread the infection. Instead, apply a hot compress for 20 minutes every two hours to relieve discomfort and hasten drainage and healing. After treating a boil, wash hands thoroughly before cooking to guard against staph infection getting into food.
It may take up to a week for the boil to break on its own. To further reduce chance of infection, showers, not baths should be taken. If the boil is large and painful, a physician may prescribe an antibiotic or open the boil with a sterile needle to drain the pus. Occasionally, large boils must be lanced with a surgical knife; this is usually done using a local anesthetic.
More seriously, bacteria from a boil may ﬁnd its way into the blood, causing blood poisoning; for this reason, doctors advise against squeezing boils that appear around the lips or nose, since the infection can be carried to the brain. (Other danger areas include the groin, armpit, and breast of a nursing woman.) Signs of a spreading infection include generalized symptoms of fever and chills, swelling lymph nodes, or red lines radiating from the boil.
Some experts note that boils are usually infected cysts and recommend leaving cysts untouched, or having them lanced by a physician. For patients prone to boils, some experts recommend washing the skin with an antiseptic soap.
Keep skin around a boil clean while drainage is occurring and take showers to lessen the chance of spreading the infection.