Boils, also known as furuncles, are highly inflamed, pus-filled lesions on the skin. They arise from hair follicles that get infected with bacteria. Facial boils may be the most embarrassing, but the condition can also appear on the neck, armpits, thighs and buttocks. They appear as painful red or pink bumps, generally half to three-quarters of an inch in diameter. Treatment is available for boils that do not go away on their own.
Staphylococcus aureus, better known as staph, is the pathogen that most commonly gives rise to boils. The bacteria grows normally on the skin, particularly just below your nostrils. But it can enter the deep levels of a hair follicle and cause problems when the follicle is injured, such as by friction from clothes or athletic equipment, according to MDguidelines.com. Predisposing factors include obesity, diabetes, poor hygiene and intravenous drug use. Immunodeficiency conditions, malnutrition, oily skin and certain medications can also increase your risk.
Boils on the face present a special risk. Squeezing them, especially those located around the lips or nose, can cause a particularly quick spread of infection to the brain and cause a life-threatening brain abscess, according to MDguidelines.com. A boil in any location can leach bacteria into the bloodstream, causing infection of the heart, inflammation of bone or other potentially fatal problems.
You can take steps at home promote healing of a boil and reduce the chance of spreading infection to other areas on your body or to others. You should wash it gently two or three times a day with a mild soap, put an over-the-counter topical antibiotic ointment on it and use a bandage to cover it, according to the Mayo Clinic. Additionally, applying a warm compress to the boil for about 10 minutes every few hours can be soothing and, if you first soak the cloth in salt water, can make the lesion rupture and drain sooner. Wash your hands after touching the boil.
If you have a large or stubborn boil, your doctor can cut it so that it will drain. This can not only speed recovery, but also reduce the chance of scarring, which may be a particular concern for a facial boil. Physicians also frequently prescribe oral antibiotics for facial boils, according to MDguidelines.com. No matter where the boil is located, you will get antibiotics if the infection has spread.
Some people suffer from recurrent bouts of boils. This is especially true of those with compromised immune systems, according to the Mayo Clinic. To minimize your chance of dealing with such lesions again and again, be meticulous about cleaning even the tiniest scrape or cut so that bacteria do not overtake follicles. Keep any wounds covered with clean, dry bandages until they have healed completely. And, since staph can spread via object, avoid sharing sheets, towels, clothes, razors or other personal items with anyone.