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Truth About Boils

A boil is a skin infection that starts in a hair follicle or oil gland, which usually makes the skin to turn red in the area of the infection, and a tender lump develops. After some days, the lump starts turning white as pus collects under the skin, and if the infection spreads to the deeper tissues of the skin, then it becomes an abscess or furuncle.

The most common places for boils to appear are on the face, neck, armpits, shoulders, and buttocks, and if several boils appear in a group, this is a more serious type of infection known as a carbuncle. When boil forms on the eyelid, it is called a sty.

Inflammation of hair follicles is called folliculitis, which can develop into a boil, and is common in the pubic area, especially after shaving.

Acne Inversa is a skin condition characterized by lumps under the skin, which often resemble pimples, particularly in the armpits, groin, and buttocks. It looks like boils but is not.

Causes of Boils

Most boils are caused by a germ (staphylococcal bacteria), that enters the body through tiny nicks or cuts in the skin or travel down the hair to the follicle.

However, some health problems make people more susceptible to skin infections. Such conditions include:

  • Poor diet or nutrition
  • Poor hygiene
  • Diabetes
  • Problems with the immune system
  • Exposure to harsh substances that irritate the skin

Symptoms of Boils

A boil starts as a hard, red, painful lump that becomes softer, larger, and more painful over the next few days. Then a pocket of pus forms on the top of the boil.

Symptoms of a severe infection include:

  • The skin around the boil becomes infected, turning red, painful, warm, and swollen.
  • More boils may appear around the original one, and lymph nodes may become swollen
  • A fever may develop.

Boil Facts and Tips

  • Antibiotics alone can be inadequate in treating abscesses, and the primary treatments for boils include hot packs and draining the abscess (but only when it is soft and ready to drain).
  • Most of these skin conditions resolve on their own or with home remedies.
  • If an individual has a fever or chronic diseases, such as cancer or diabetes, or is taking medications that suppress the immune system, he or she should contact a doctor if a boil (abscess) or other skin infection develops.
  • There are a number of ways to reduce the likelihood of developing some forms of boils, but boils are not completely preventable even with proper hygiene and good skin care routine.
  • The bacteria that cause boils are contagious, and skin infections can be spread from contact with the fluid from the boil.

Boil Vs. A pimple

A pimple is a type of skin condition that can appear similar to a boil and are most commonly seen in people with acne of the face, back, or chest. 

Like boils, Pimples may be filled with pus, in addition to dead skin cells and oily secretions, and pimples start in pores that are openings for hair follicles in the skin.

Some pimples and boils may be impossible to tell apart, because these two conditions arise from a similar inflammatory process occurring in the hair follicles, with boils being more severe and representing true infections. However, a boil is typically reddened and causes more pain than a pimple.

Risk Factors For Boils

Anyone can develop a boil, however, people with certain illnesses or who take certain medications that weaken the body’s immune system is more prone to develop boils.

Diseases in which there is inadequate antibody production can increase the risk of developing boils, and diseases that are associated with impaired immune systems include diabetes and kidney failure

Similarly, many medications can suppress the normal immune system and increase the risk of developing boils and other infections. These medications include cortisone medications (prednisone) and medications used for cancer chemotherapy.

When Do You Seek Medical Care?

Consult your Doctor if you feel the following:

  • You start running a fever, or you have swollen lymph nodes.
  • The skin around the boil turns red or red streaks emerge.
  • The pain becomes severe, or the boil does not drain.
  • A second boil appears.
  • You have diabetes or any problem with your immune system, or use immune-suppressing drugs and you develop a boil.

Boils usually do not need immediate emergency attention, but if you are in poor health and you develop high fever and chills along with the infection, a trip to a hospital or a visit to your doctor is needed.

Home Remedies for Boils

Home therapies should only be used on small boils, and if your boil is big or has a lot of redness around it, seek medical attention rather than trying to deal with it yourself.

  • Apply warm compresses, and soak the boil in warm water: This will decrease the pain and help draw the pus to the surface so the boil can rupture. Once the boil comes to a head, it will burst with repeated soakings.
  • When the boil starts draining, wash it with soap until all the pus is gone, then apply a clean and dry bandage. Continue to wash the infected area two to three times a day and use warm compresses until the lesion heals.
  • Do not pop a boil with a needle, as this may result in making the infection worse.


If the boil is large, your doctor may need to open it up and drain the pus. This is called an incision and drainage (I&D) procedure.

If the infection is deep, your doctor may put some gauze in the incision to keep it open and draining, and if there are concerns about the seriousness of the infection, blood tests may be needed.

The doctor may prescribe antibiotics if the infection is severe, and a large skin abscess caused by a staph infection may need to be surgically opened, drained and treated with intravenous antibiotics.



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