boils, furuncles and carbuncles

What are boils, furuncles and carbuncles?

A boil, also known as a furuncle is a skin abscess, a painful bump that forms under the skin - it is full of puss. A carbuncle is collection of boils that develop under the skin. When bacteria infect hair follicles they can swell up and turn into boils. Such abscesses respond to hot packs and lancing, rather than antibiotics, experts say. Antibiotics may be used if the infection spreads into a deeper layer of skin.

Some people with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or cancer, as well as those taking immunosuppressive medications should contact their doctor if they have a carbuncle. If you have a boil and a fever you should also contact your doctor.

Furuncles start off as red lumps, they are often tender. They rapidly fill with pus and grow until they become painful and burst. Furuncles, like boils and carbuncles typically affect the thighs, armpits, buttocks, face and neck.

Individuals with weakened immune systems, adolescents and young adults are more susceptible to boils than younger children or older adults.

According to Medilexicon's medical dictionary, a carbuncle is a:

"Deep-seated pyogenic infection of the skin and subcutaneous tissues, usually arising in several contiguous hair follicles, with formation of connecting sinuses."

Experts say patients should not try to burst or squeeze boils on their own. They usually go away after a couple of weeks without treatment. If it hurts a lot, persists for over a couple of weeks, or is accompanied by an elevated body temperature, you should see your doctor.

Boils come on rapidly as pink/red bumps about ½ to ¾ inch in diameter, they are often painful. The surrounding skin is typically red, inflamed and tender. The bump fills with pus within a few days and grows. The bigger it gets the more painful it becomes. According to the NHS (National Health Service), UK, boils can sometimes become as big as ping-pong balls. They generally go away within one or two weeks, but can take longer. A large boil may leave a scar.

A carbuncle is larger than a boil and usually has one or more openings draining pus onto the skin. Experts say it is most commonly caused by Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium. The infection can spread to other parts of the body, and other people too. Because carbuncles are contagious, it is not uncommon for household members to develop them at the same time. Males are affected more frequently than females.

Carbuncle infections tend to be deeper and more severe than those caused by boils. The risk of scarring is higher, and they take longer to develop and then go away, in comparison to boils.

 caring for your gums. -
Staphylococcus aureus, also known as staph bacteria live on the skin and inside of the nose and throat. Usually, our body's immune system keeps them under control. However, they can sometimes make headway into a hair follicle, or when we cut or graze our skin. When the skin becomes infected the body's immune system responds by sending white blood cells to the affected area to destroy the bacteria. Pus is an accumulation of dead bacteria, dead white blood cells, and dead skin.

The following groups of people are more likely to develop boils:

  • Those with diabetes - high blood sugar (glucose) levels can undermine a proper response by the body's immune system
  • Those taking certain medications - especially medications which weaken the immune system.
  • Patients with HIV and other diseases/conditions that weaken their immune systems
  • Individuals with certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis, eczema and acne

What are the treatment options for boils?

Things you can do yourself - applying a warm face cloth for ten minutes a few times a day may help speed up the healing process. Heat draws more white-cell-containing-blood to the affected area. After touching the boil, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly.

Do not squeeze the boil, it will significantly increase the risk of spreading the infection.

Medical treatment - the doctor may use a sterilized needle to lance the boil; to prick it and drain the pus away. Do not lance the boil yourself, it has to be done by a health care professional who has the proper training plus the right equipment.

Complications - there is a risk of secondary infections - when the infection spreads to other parts of the body. An example includes cellulitis. Much less commonly, there is also a risk of septic arthritis, endocarditis and septicemia (blood poisoning).

  • Keep your skin clean by washing it regularly. Use a mild antibacterial soap.
  • All skin wounds, cuts, and grazes should be immediately cleaned, no matter how small they are.
  • A sterile bandage over the cut will help prevent infection
  • Regular physical exercise will improve your general health and your immune system, reducing your risk of developing boils
  • A healthy, well balanced diet will also reduce your chances of developing boils.

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