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What are Boils and How Can I Treat Them?

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 25 May 2018 | comments*Discuss
Boils Bumps Skin Infection Symptoms

Boils, also known as skin abscesses and furuncles, are caused by infections of a hair follicle and surrounding tissues. These infections cause a swelling as pus and dead tissue create a hot, red bump on the skin’s surface that can be embarrassing for the person experiencing them. Sometimes these abscesses are clustered together and actually connected beneath the skin, which is then known as a carbuncle. Becoming familiar with the symptoms of boils should help you spot and treat them quickly. Unfortunately some boils do lead to complications, but there are ways to avoid recurrent boils and minimise these risks.

Symptoms of Boils

Boils can vary in size from looking like a large spot to being as large as a golf ball. They can appear anywhere on the body, though they are particularly common on the face, neck, breasts or buttocks. They are also common amongst people who are diabetic, have a compromised immune system, are elderly or are obese. Common symptoms of boils include:
  • A bump on the skin, often that looks lumpy or has irregular borders.
  • Pain associated with the bump.
  • Heat associated with the bump.
  • Redness or even a purple tone associated with the area of the bump.
  • A yellow or white centre of the bump indicative of pus inside.
  • Associated fever.
  • Associated fatigue.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • Red streaks radiating from the bump, indicating spreading infection.

Treating Boils

The best treatment for boils depends on their size, location, the number of boils present and your history with this type of skin problem. No matter what, though, all boils must drain in order to heal. Common treatment options include:
  • Covering with warm, wet cloth to promote natural drainage.
  • Using antibiotic or antiseptic creams to treat the area.
  • Applying tea tree oil to the area as a natural antiseptic.
  • Covering any open wounds with dry, sterile gauze or plasters.
  • Lancing or forced draining of the abscess by a medical professional.
  • Use of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection.
  • Washing all areas with antibacterial soap during antibiotic treatment.

Complications Associated With Boils

While many boils are simply a contained infection of a hair follicle, others can create health complications if they are left untreated. Scarring and keloid scarring are possible if boils open on their own and are not kept clean. The infection associated with the boil can also spread into the blood stream. Blood poisoning can result from an untreated boil, and this can even progress into shock which can be fatal. The bacteria associated with boils is also happy to find new homes in almost any organ system, which means that no part of the body is safe if an infection spreads out of control.

Avoiding Recurrent Boils

Some people are prone to recurrent boils, which can be unsightly and embarrassing. The best way to avoid this is to treat boils as they arise, to take a full course of antibiotics if prescribed and to wash all over the body with approved soaps in order to maintain a high standard of personal hygiene. When boils do occur, keeping the areas clean and avoiding squeezing, picking or otherwise forcing the abscesses open is best to contain the infections. Eating a balanced diet, staying at a healthy weight, managing any underlying health conditions and frequently washing hands with antibacterial soap or gels will also help avoid recurrent boils as well.

Boils are ugly to look at and embarrassing to suffer. Recognising the symptoms of boils, how to treat them, what complications could result from them and how to avoid a recurrence are all important for people who suffer from these kinds of infections.

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