A boil is a pus-filled skin infection that occurs around a hair follicle or oil gland. It’s also called a furuncle.
Boils are common. They may occur in hair follicles anywhere on the body but typically occur in areas where hair and sweat coexist, like the:
The bacteria Staphylococcus aureus typically causes boils, but other bacteria can also cause them.
Once bacteria have infected the hair follicles and the skin tissue around it, white blood cells are deployed to fight the infection.
These white blood cells create pus that collects under the skin. This is why what often starts as a small, red lump can become a painful eruption.
Yes, sometimes boils can recur. The presence of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus can cause repeat cases of boils. Once present, the body and skin may be more susceptible to reinfection.
A 2015 study found that around
While this is a relatively low percentage, the study was only conducted through medical records. Those who had repeat boils may or may not have visited a doctor if they developed another boil.
Hidradenitis suppurativa (also known as acne inversa) is a condition that involves the development of boil-like lumps that can secrete pus, but also blood.
Hidradenitis suppurativa is a serious, painful condition, and in many cases, the exact cause is unknown. But genetics may play a role, which means you may be more susceptible to developing this condition if another family member has it.
Regular boils caused by bacteria are not inherited.
You can often treat a boil at home. Here are some general guidelines:
- Keep the area clean and free of any irritants.
- Don’t pick or attempt to pop the boil.
- Apply a warm compress to the boil several times a day.
- Don’t reuse or share cloths used for compresses.
A warm compress will help pull out the pus inside the boil. This can help the boil drain on its own.
If you attempt to pop or lance the boil yourself, you’ll put the area at risk of further infection.
Also visit your doctor if you’re experiencing any of the following:
- hot, red skin around the boil
- long-lasting boil
- extreme pain
- boil on spine or face
Most boils go away on their own with proper treatment and care. But in rare instances, complications can occur. Some of these complications include:
- permanent scarring
- infection spreading to other parts of the body
- infection of the blood (sepsis)
- bone infection
If you notice a boil not going away on its own or seemingly getting worse and becoming more painful, the best course of action is to visit a doctor as soon as you can.
If your boil has not gone away on its own after 2 weeks, your doctor may recommend a surgical incision and drainage.
Typically, this procedure involves making a small cut at the top of the boil. This is known as lancing. Your doctor will extract pus with sterile tools.
If the boil is too large for the pus to drain completely, it may be packed with gauze.
Preventing boils has a lot to do with your personal hygiene routine. Keeping yourself clean and free of excess sweat as much as possible can be a big help. Avoiding clothing that causes chafing can also help.
To further prevent the chance of a boil recurring, you can also do the following:
- Avoid sharing towels or washcloths with anyone.
- Avoid sharing razors or topical deodorants.
- Clean bathtubs, toilet seats, and other frequently touched surfaces.
- Cover any existing boils with clean bandages.
- Bathe regularly, especially after sweating.
Boils form from infected hair follicles. They can start as small, red bumps and turn into hard lumps under your skin that secrete pus.
Boils usually go away on their own, but can also reoccur. If you have recurring boils, contact your doctor to diagnose the reason for the recurrence.
Your doctor can help treat the current boil and put together a course of action to prevent it from returning, like hygiene adjustment or antibiotic treatment.