If you develop a boil, you may be tempted to pop it or lance it (open with a sharp instrument) at home. Don’t do this. It may spread infection and make the boil worse.

Your boil may contain bacteria that could be dangerous if not properly treated. If your boil is painful or isn’t healing, have it checked by your doctor. They may need to surgically open and drain the boil and prescribe antibiotics.

Boils are caused by an inflammation of a hair follicle or sweat gland. Typically, the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus causes this inflammation.

A boil usually appears as a hard lump under the skin. It then develops into a firm balloon-like growth under the skin as it fills up with pus. A boil typically appears in crevices or places where sweat and oil can build up, such as:

  • under arms
  • waist area
  • buttocks
  • under breasts
  • groin area

A boil commonly has a white or yellow center, which is caused by the pus inside it. The boil may spread to other areas of the skin. A cluster of boils connected to each other under the skin are called a carbuncle.

A boil can heal on its own. However, it may become more painful as pus continues to build up in the lesion. Instead of popping or picking at the boil, which can lead to infection, treat the boil with care. Follow these steps:

  1. Use a clean, warm cloth to apply a compress to the boil. You can repeat this several times a day in order to encourage the boil to come to a head and drain.
  2. Keep the area clean. Wash your hands after touching the affected area.
  3. If the boil is painful, take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  4. When open, the boil may weep or ooze liquid. Once the boil opens, cover it to prevent infection in the open wound. Use an absorbent gauze or pad to prevent the pus from spreading. Change the gauze or pad frequently.

If your boil doesn’t heal with home treatment, you may need to see your doctor. Medical treatment may include:

  • topical or oral antibiotics
  • surgical incision
  • tests to determine cause of boil

Surgical treatment usually involves draining the boil. Your doctor will make a small incision in the face of the boil. They’ll use an absorbent material such as gauze to soak up pus inside the boil.

Don’t attempt this at home. Your home isn’t a sterile environment like a hospital setting. You’re at risk of developing a more serious infection or scarring.

See your doctor if your boil:

  • worsens quickly
  • is accompanied by a fever
  • hasn’t improved in two or more weeks
  • is bigger than 2 inches across
  • is accompanied by symptoms of infection

Resist the urge to pick at and pop your boil. Instead, apply warm compresses and keep the area clean.

If your boil doesn’t improve within two weeks or shows sign of serious infection, consult your doctor. They may recommend lancing and draining the boil and may prescribe antibiotics.