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Recognising and Treating Boils

By: Jody Ehrhardt - Updated: 30 Mar 2019 | comments*Discuss
Boils Abscess Of The Skin Infection In

The word boil in medical terms means an abscess of the skin. Although many people do not realise it boils are actually the result of an infection in the skin. Understanding boils and their causes can help with treatment and prevention.

Recognising Boils

Since boils start as a small, tender, and sometimes red area of skin, many individuals do not know that they are experiencing the beginnings of a boil. Once a boil progresses the infected area becomes a hard to the touch and pus develops in the center of the abscess. This is usually when individuals first realise they are dealing with a boil. And, although a person's first thought is that they need to release the pus, it should be known that the pus is actually a combination of infection-fighting white blood cells and proteins that are trying to heal the infection.

So, in essence, a boil is the body's way of dealing with and eradicating infection or foreign substances from our skin. And although there are several types of boils, they all form for the same reason.

Knowing that, however, it is still important to distinguish between types of boils so that you can better understand their cause and their recommended treatment. The four most common types of boils include cystic acne, pilonidal cysts, hidradenitis suppurativa, and carbuncles. Each of these types is caused by a different infection.

What Causes Boils

Since boils are the body's way of dealing with skin infection and type of injury or skin pore blockage can lead to the development of a boil. However, boils are most often caused by four main reasons.

Cystic acne is a type of boil that forms when oil ducts in the skin become clogged and then infected. This abscess type of acne is different from regular acne in that it develops deep within the layers of the skin and more frequently causes scarring. Pilonidal cysts develop from infection in the hair follicle but these cysts only occur in the crease of the buttocks. The combination of inflammation, infection, and constant pressure from sitting cause the formation of a boil in this region. Hidradenitis suppurativa is a type of boil condition characterised by the formation of multiple abscesses in the groin area or in the region of the armpit. These abscesses are caused by the inflammation of sweat glands.

Finally, carbuncles, the most common type of boil, are caused by infection brought on by the bacteria staphylococcus aureus. These boils can be found anywhere on the body and are usually accompanied by other signs of infection such as fever.

Treating a Boil

The key to treating boils lies in early detection. The sooner you can recognise a boil and begin treatment the more likely you are to heal the boil and avoid further complications or infections. However, it is important to note that you cannot begin removal treatment until the boil forms a soft head that can be opened to allow drainage. To speed the development of this head it is best to apply heat to the area at least once a day. Heat can safely be applied by using a heating pad, a warm, moist cloth, or even through the use of warm baths.

Once the soft head has formed it is time for drainage. Sometimes a boil will burst on its own and begin draining naturally. In this case you need to keep the area clean and apply a gauze bandage to absorb the leaking pus. Although a boil can heal after this drainage it is usually recommended that the individual seek medical attention in case further drainage is needed or antibiotics need to be prescribed to reduce the spread of infection.

If the boil does not burst naturally you will need to see a doctor to have the boil lanced. In this procedure the doctor will cut into the soft head of the boil to begin drainage. In these instances antibiotics are usually prescribed to help speed healing and reduce the chance of re-infection.

Since treatment for a boil can take some time, cause discomfort, and cause inconvenience, it is better to prevent the occurrence of this abscess before it can develop.

Boil Prevention

Since boils have different causes the only way to prevent them is to prevent the things that cause them. In the case of cystic acne boils antibiotics may be needed for prevention, or the use of medicated creams that reduce oil production and skin blockages. Regular cleansing and exfoliation can also help with the prevention of this form of boils.

To prevent the development of pilonidal boils you can avoid added pressure to the area of the buttocks when a hair follicle has become inflamed. Avoid sitting for long periods of time or sitting in hard, non-cushioned chairs. To treat the inflamed hair follicle wash the area often with warm soapy water and dry the area completely before getting dressed.

If you have a history of developing hidradenitis suppurative boils you will most likely need an antibiotic to prevent future boil developments. You can also undergo surgical treatment of the seat glands to eliminate the occurrence of inflammation. Finally, you can prevent the development of carbuncles by removing the bacteria that causes them from your skin. Use an antibacterial soap when showering or bathing, wash skin daily, or more often after coming into contact with items that may harbor bacteria, and avoid contact with any items that are known contaminants.

Since boils are your body's way of dealing with infection you do not want to interfere with their development when they are needed. However, by taking a few precautions and learning about their causes you can protect your skin from this type of abscess.

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[Add a Comment]
@Akki - I would just let it take its own course. There is little you can do to prevent it from growing. But will subside again in another couple of days. Messing about with it, continually touching it, or trying to squeeze it will make it much worse. if you ignore it - it will go away.
LizzN - 20-Nov-17 @ 9:40 AM
@Em - if you were on holiday in the sun, then it's more than likely the sun has helped clear up your spots by drying out your oily skin. But, it's more beneficial to actually wash your hair than use dry shampoo as washing your hair will help reduce the oiliness, whereas dry shampoo will not get rid of it. Also, see your doc if your spots are really bad - there is a lot of medication and creams that can help these days.
Anna - 3-Jul-17 @ 10:24 AM
Tas - Your Question:
I have abscess that is big and white under the armpit. its very painful. does it need lancing

Our Response:
You would need to visit a doctor. We cannot give medical advice. Plus, you would have to be careful about getting any unauthorised diagnosis due to the close proximity of the lump to your lymph nodes.
SkinHelp - 14-Sep-16 @ 2:52 PM
i have abscess that is big and white under the armpit.its very painful.does it need lancing
Tas - 14-Sep-16 @ 11:40 AM
Cj - Your Question:
I have a lump behind my ear I took antibiotics for staff but I'm guessing it's not staff so I'm use ins black savue to draw it is that good or bad

Our Response:
If the antiobiotics have not worked I suggest you see your GP again. Rather than trying to treat this yourself, you should seek another course of treatment.
SkinHelp - 28-Jul-16 @ 10:40 AM
I have a lump behind my ear I took antibiotics for staff but I'm guessing it's not staff so I'm use ins black savue to draw it is that good or bad
Cj - 27-Jul-16 @ 9:59 AM
Baza - Your Question:
I have noticed a lump next to my anus about the size of a pea and hard and sore to touch does it sound like a boil to you or something serious it's on been there about 2-3 day it hunk

Our Response:
I'm afraid it is impossible to give an accurate diagnosis on this as it could be a variety of issues such as an anal absess. These often appear as a painful boil-like swelling that may be red and warm to the touch and are caused by an infection from small anal glands. Other causes are listed here.However, if you are concerned and it is painful a trip to your GP will help give an accurate diagnosis.
SkinHelp - 15-Jun-16 @ 1:02 PM
I have noticed a lump next to my anus about the size of a pea and hard and sore to touch does it sound like a boil to youor something serious it's on been there about 2-3 day it hunk
Baza - 14-Jun-16 @ 7:12 PM
Hi , I have been having what I think is boils in my private area where my public hair is , it can be there and fine but past few weeks it has burst twice ?? also have one on my tummy been there about 2 months this morning it was so sore so I put a warm cloth on it and it burst now there looks like a small hole with black in the area ! Is this dry blood? Any idea what these boil spots could be ?
daisy - 7-Apr-16 @ 11:44 AM
Hi, The doctor diagnosed that I have chicken pox. Boils have started all over my body and in between hairs in the head. Is this normal? There are around 5-6 boils in the scalp. Is this ok?
Cheeks - 30-Jun-15 @ 12:36 PM
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