Boils and Abscesses

Boils and Abscesses

Boils (furuncles) are painful pus-filled bumps on the skin resulting from the deep infection of a hair follicle. The infection is usually caused by a type of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus (“staph”). Many people are “carriers” of the staph germ, meaning that it normally lives on their skin or in their nose without doing them any harm. Tiny breaks in the surface of the skin (such as those caused by friction or scratching), however, can help the germ gain entry into and infect the hair follicle, resulting in a boil.

Boils may resolve with simple self-care measures, but the infected fluid (pus) needs to drain in order for them to heal completely. Many boils the drain of their own accord, or they can be lanced by a health care professional. Antibiotics may also be prescribed. Untreated boils can enlarge or grow together to form a giant multi-headed boil (carbuncle). Rarely, the infection in the skin can get into the bloodstream, leading to serious illness.

A red-to-purple, tender lump on an area of the skin that also has hair. The most common areas for boils to occur are places where there is friction and/or places that tend to be sweaty, such as the buttocks, armpits, groin, neck, shoulders, and face. The skin surrounding the lump may look swollen and red. The center of the lump eventually becomes filled with yellow or white pus that you will be able to see (“coming to a head”). The pus is a mixture of bacteria and infection-fighting white blood cells.

  • You have multiple boils or if the boils increases in size or number.
  • You have a fever or chills, severe pain, or otherwise feel unwell.
  • The boil fails to drain.
  • The area of redness surrounding the boil begins spreading.
  • You have diabetes, a heart murmur, a problem with your immune system, or are taking immune-suppressing medications when you develop a boil.
  • You have had repeated outbreaks of boils.

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