Most boils are caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. Doctors typically prescribe antibiotics to treat this kind of infection. Over-the-counter boil medications provide pain relief, not treatment.
When bacteria infect and inflame a hair follicle, a painful pus-filled bump can form under your skin. This infected bump is a boil, also known as a furuncle, and it will grow larger and more painful until it ruptures and drains.
Most boils can be treated with a minor surgical procedure that includes opening and draining it. Sometimes you may need antibiotics to deal with the underlying infection.
- amoxicillin (Amoxil, Moxatag)
- cefazolin (Ancef, Kefzol)
- cephalexin (Keflex)
- clindamycin (Cleocin, Benzaclin, Veltin)
- doxycycline (Doryx, Oracea, Vibramycin)
- erythromycin (Erygel, Eryped)
- gentamicin (Gentak)
- levofloxacin (Levaquin)
- mupirocin (Centany)
- sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim (Bactrim, Septra)
The antibiotic your doctor will prescribe is based on your specific situation.
Not every antibiotic is going to work for you because some varieties — there are over 30 types — of staph have become resistant to certain antibiotics.
Before prescribing antibiotics, your doctor might suggest sending a sample of pus from the boil to a lab to determine the antibiotic that would be most effective.
Most over-the-counter (OTC) boil medications are focused on pain relief. There are no OTC antibiotics appropriate for treating a boil.
According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, using OTC antibiotic ointment — such as Neosporin, bacitracin, or Polysporin — on your boil is ineffective because the medication won’t penetrate the infected skin.
If the antibiotic is doing its job, you’ll start to feel better. Once you feel better, you might consider stopping the medication. You shouldn’t stop or you might get sick again.
Whenever you’re prescribed an oral antibiotic, take it as directed and finish all of the medication. If you stop taking it too soon, the antibiotic might not have killed all the bacteria.
If that happens, not only could you get sick again, but the remaining bacteria might become resistant to that antibiotic. Also, have your doctor review signs and symptoms that your infection is getting worse.
A boil can be painful and unsightly. It might require antibiotics as well as minor surgery to open and drain. If you have a boil or group of boils, consult your doctor or dermatologist to determine the steps that should be taken to properly heal the area.
One universal rule you’ll hear from all medical professionals is to not pick at, squeeze, or use a sharp object to release the fluid and pus in a boil. Among other complications, this can spread the infection.