When bacteria infect a hair follicle or an oil gland, a red, painful, pus-filled bump can form under the skin. This is known as a boil. A boil is usually very painful because of the pressure that develops as it grows bigger.
As a boil matures, it grows larger, and its center fills with pus. This pus-filled center is called the core. Eventually, the boil comes to a head, meaning a yellow-white tip develops on top of the core.
Don’t pick at, squeeze, or try to open a boil in any way. You may force the skin infection deeper and cause complications.
In about 1 week, your boil will most likely start to change. The following scenarios are possible:
- The pus in your boil will begin to drain on its own, and your boil will heal within a few weeks.
- Your boil may heal without the pus draining out, and your body will slowly absorb and break down the pus.
- Your boil doesn’t heal and either stays the same size or grows larger and more painful.
If it doesn’t seem to be healing on its own, you may need to see a doctor. They can open your boil so that the core of pus can drain. You should never open the boil yourself.
The recommended way to properly and safely get the core out of a boil is by having it opened by a medical professional.
Your procedure will take place in a sterile environment. The doctor will perform an incision and drainage by following the steps below:
- First, the doctor will treat the area around the boil with antiseptic.
- Before they make a cut, they’ll typically numb the area around the boil as well.
- Then they’ll open the boil by making a small cut with a sharp instrument, such as a needle, lancet, or scalpel. This technique is also known as lancing.
- They’ll drain the pus through the surgical incision. Additional incisions may be necessary, on occasion.
- They’ll clean the cavity by irrigating, or flushing, it with sterile saline solution.
- They’ll dress and bandage the area.
If your boil is very deep and doesn’t completely drain right away, the doctor may pack the cavity with sterile gauze to absorb the leftover pus.
If you have any of the following conditions, the doctor might prescribe an antibiotic, such as sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim (Bactrim), following your procedure:
- several boils
- a fever
- skin that looks infected
Antibiotics are often prescribed for boils on the face. These boils are more likely to cause an infection in your body.
However, antibiotics may not always help clear up your boils. This is because boils are walled off from your blood supply, making it difficult for the antibiotics to get in to work.
Again, don’t attempt to pop the boil yourself. The risk of the infection spreading to your bloodstream is too high. You can, however, try these safe home treatments:
- Put a warm, wet cloth on your boil for about 20 minutes, three or four times a day. This will help bring the boil to a head. The boil may open on its own with about 1 week of this treatment. If it doesn’t, contact a doctor for possible incision and drainage in an office.
- If the boil opens, gently wash the area and dress it with a sterile bandage. This helps stop the infection from spreading. If pus from your boil gets on your washcloths or towels, don’t reuse them until they’ve been laundered. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly at all times.
- For the next few days, continue using the warm cloths to promote draining in the open wound. Gently wash the area and apply a fresh bandage two times a day or whenever pus leaks through.
- Once the boil is fully drained, clean and bandage the area daily until it’s healed.
Be patient during this process. Don’t try to squeeze the pus from the boil. Let it drain on its own.
Many people’s first instinct is to want to open and drain their boil at home.
Never try to cut or squeeze open a boil yourself. With time, the boil may open on its own naturally. Draining can often be safely accomplished using only hot compresses, sanitary techniques, and proper bandaging.
However, you should go to a doctor to have them take care of the boil if:
- your boil doesn’t naturally resolve
- it grows bigger
- it gets more painful
- you develop a fever