A boil refers to a skin infection involving hair follicle or oil gland. The skin inflicted by boil initially turns reddish, leading to development of a tender lump. The lump begins to turn white with collection of pus under the skin after nearly a week.

Boils commonly affect face, neck, shoulders, armpits and buttocks. Boil developing on the eyelid is known as sty. The infection caused by a group of many boils is known as carbuncle.

What Causes Boils

Most boils appear with a bacteria or germ (known as Staphylococcus) entering into the body through small or tiny openings in the skin or passing through a hair to the follicles.

Certain health conditions such as diabetes, weakness of the immune system, malnutrition, lack of hygiene and exposure to harsh and irritating chemicals may contribute to the development of boils.

Boils Symptoms

A boil initially appears in the form of a small, hard, reddish and painful lump on the skin. After next few days the lump turns softer and grows larger, causing more pain. Subsequently a pocket containing pus covers top of the boil.

Following are the symptoms of severe infection:

Redness of the skin surrounding the boils.

Swelling and pain on the affected area of skin.

Development of several new boils around the first one.

Occurrence of fever.

Swelling of lymph nodes.  

When to seek medical advice?

You are likely to develop boils if you are diabetic or having cardiac murmur, or taking medications (like corticosteroids or chemotherapy for cancer) that cause suppression of your immune system.

Boils rarely require immediate medical attention, but if your health deteriorates with high fever and chills in addition to infection, it becomes necessary to rush you to hospital for emergency medical care.

Consult your doctor when:

You are having fever.

The skin around boil turns reddish or when you notice red streaks on your skin.

You are feeling severe pain on the affected area.

The boil does not drain pus.

You notice appearance of a secondary boil.

Exams and Tests

Your doctor may feel the need of conducting physical examination to make an accurate diagnosis of boil, if any, in your skin. In case boils develop very frequently in your skin, your doctor may think of conducting a blood test to confirm whether you are diabetic or not.

Home Remedies for Boils

Application of warm compresses and soaking the boil in slightly hot water will help relieve pain besides bringing out pus onto surface. Repeated soakings will cause boil to burst.

You can also soak a cloth in slightly hot water and apply a warm compress on the skin, inflicted by boils. Now remove the excess moisture through squeezing.

After bursting of boil and subsequent discharge of pus, wash the area with the use of antibacterial soap to bring out the residual pus.

Now apply a medicated ointment and cover the area with the help of bandage.

Keep washing the infected area at least thrice a day besides using warm compresses till the wound heals.

Avoid popping the boil with a needle as it may worsen the infection.

Boils Treatment

If you have a large boil, your doctor may feel the need of opening it up and draining the pus with a scalpel after numbing the affected area through local anesthesia.

In case of deep infection, your health-care provider may use some gauze in the incision so that boil remains open and all pus comes out. The gauze can be taken out after a couple of days.

In case of severe infection, your doctor may prescribe some antibiotics.

After bursting of boil and draining of pus, your doctor may feel the need for a culture to determine the type of bacteria that resulted in infection and also to evaluate the appropriateness of antibiotics that were used in the treatment.

If the infection is acute and becomes a cause for serious concern, treatment may be initiated on the basis of blood test.

Types of boils

Furuncle or carbuncle: This type of boil refers to an abscess in the skin caused that appears after entry of bacterium (called Staphylococcus aureus), into the body. A furuncle may comprise one or more openings onto the skin. Furuncle may also be associated with other conditions like fever and chills.

Cystic acne: This is another type of abscess that develops with infection or clogging of oil ducts. Cystic acne may also harm deeper skin tissue. It commonly occurs on the face. Cystic acne can typically affect the teenagers.

Hidradenitis suppurativa: This type of boil occurs with development of multiple abscesses under the armpits and mostly in the groin area. The condition also involves the local inflammation of sweat glands.

Antibiotics will not be sufficient to treat this form of skin infection. Rather it will typically require a surgical procedure for removal of the involved sweat glands so as to prevent skin inflammation.

Pilonidal cyst: This type of boil develops in the crease of the buttocks. Pilonidal cysts initially appear in the form of small-infected areas, covering the base of the skin (area of hair follicles). The inflamed area grows large due to irritation from direct pressure and turns into a hard, painful and tender nodule causing discomfort while sitting. This type of boil occurs after long trips that involve constant and prolonged sitting.