A boil, also known as a furuncle, is a skin infection that involves a hair follicle and the surrounding skin tissue. They form under the skin and usually present as red, tender bumps at first. Boils then fill with pus, increase in size and become more painful. If a cluster of boils appear together, this is known as a carbuncle. The face, neck, buttocks, armpit and thigh are the most common locations for boils, although they can occur in any of the body's hair follicles.
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Any bacteria or fungus located on the surface of the skin can cause a boil. Boils are quite common and are usually caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, the most common bacteria found on the skin. When the hair follicle is damaged by a scratch or other break in the skin, the bacteria is able to move deeper into the follicular tissues, causing an infection and resulting in a boil. Boils may appear after taking antibiotics and are more common in people with diabetes or people who are immune compromised.
Signs and Symptoms
Boils begin as a red swollen area of the skin and develop into a larger, pus-filled pustule. The area may itch in the beginning and become more painful as the boil fills with pus. Pustules may form and appear with a white or yellow center. Boils are usually pea-sized but can be as large as a golf ball, usually growing at a rapid pace. Fatigue and fever may accompany the boil. The surrounding skin is red and swollen.
Treatment of boils should be directed by a health-care provider. If you experience redness or red streaks spreading from the infected area, have an accompanying fever, if you are diabetic or are currently taking an antibiotic or cortisone medication you should see your health-care provider at the onset of symptoms. Using a hot compress on the boil or sitting in a hot bath may help to alleviate the pain until the boil ruptures and drains on its own. When the boil ruptures, pain relief is forthcoming.
Considering boils are caused by bacteria on the skin, one of the key prevention methods is practicing good hygiene. Thorough hand washing and using antibacterial soaps may help to prevent bacteria from infecting hair follicles. Avoid sharing items such as towels, razors and athletic equipment to cut down on the spread of infection. By keeping cuts and scrapes clean and covered during the healing process the spread of infection will also be minimized. In some cases, your health-care provider may need to provide an antibiotic to clear up the underlying infection in hopes of preventing boils in the future.