Boils are painful infections that develop in your hair follicles. Also known as furuncles and abscesses, boils can pop up almost anywhere on your body. In addition, they can manifest in more than one of your follicles at the same time.
Boils can develop in a group of hair follicles. When this happens, your condition becomes a carbuncle. This infection causes a lump that might contain pus to form deep in the skin. You may also develop more than one carbuncle, a condition known as carbunculosis.
With this condition, your skin will form a hard bump that is filled with pus and fluid. Hidradenitis suppurativa is a chronic infection that produces pain and swelling. As with all types of boils, this condition may occur multiple times all over your body.
Pilonidial cysts form near the cleft between your buttocks near your tailbone. The cyst contains hair, pus, and other material. You may develop pain and swelling in surrounding tissue because of the cyst’s location. The symptoms may be especially painful if you sit for long periods of time.
Microorganisms such as bacteria are a main cause of boils. The bacterium Staphylococcus aureus is the most common cause of skin infections. It enters the body through damaged skin and hair follicles such as cuts and sores. The bacteria may travel deep into the hair follicle and produce inflammation, which causes the surrounding skin to become painful and red.
Your body’s immune system sends white blood cells to the damaged area. Pus may develop in response to the inflammation.
You may be at risk for developing boils (and other skin infections) if you have damaged skin and hair follicles. Cuts and sores can damage these areas. You are also at risk for boils if you have health conditions that make it difficult for your skin to heal or resist infection. Diabetes is an example of this type of condition.
You may also be at risk if you:
- have a weak immune system
- come into contact with someone who has a boil
- have other skin conditions such as acne and cysts
Boils commonly develop on your thighs, groin, face, and armpits. Sometimes they develop on your buttocks, back, and chest. Boils usually begin as small bumps in the skin but later develop a white or soft center as they come to a head. They may feel tender to the touch or very painful depending on their location and size.
The symptoms you experience may also include the following:
- The infected site may itch prior to the boil appearing.
- The boil may swell or increase in size.
- If the boil bursts, it may ooze pus or fluids.
- The skin surrounding the boil may become red and very tender.
- You may develop a fever or not feel well in general.
Your doctor may diagnose your boil by its appearance. He or she may also take samples of the abscess to find out what type of bacterium or germ is causing it. This involves using a swab to remove some of the fluid coming from the boil, and sending the sample to a laboratory for analysis.
If you have multiple boils or if your condition is chronic, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Antibiotics may kill or reduce the infection in your body.
Over-the-counter pain medication may help reduce your discomfort and any inflammation.
If your boil is very large, your physician may make a small incision in it to drain the fluid and pus. If the boil does not drain completely in the office, your doctor may pack it with sterile gauze to catch any drainage that occurs at home.
You can use warm, moist towels to relieve pain and swelling. This method may encourage the boil to drain.
Treatment usually helps relieve the symptoms of existing skin abscesses, and they may heal. However, they may return. Speak with your doctor if you have boils that reoccur or if you develop them often.
Use good hygiene by washing your hands and taking care of your skin. If you develop a boil, keep the location covered with sterile gauze until it heals. Fluid and pus from boils is contagious. It can cause boils in other locations of your body or on other people.