A boil, or furuncle, is an inflamed, painful, pus-filled skin sore. It first forms as a nodule under the skin, then after several days it develops into a raised reddish sore with a white or yellow pus-filled center. Because of pus accumulating under the skin, the boil may become more painful.

Eventually the pocket of pus rises towards the skin surface and finally bursts and drains. Once this occurs, pain diminishes and healing begins.

Symptoms of Boils

  • A lump, often pea-size, that forms under the skin on the face, neck, armpits, or buttocks. Red and tender to the touch, the lump fills with white or yellowish pus, forming a head or tip.
  • Fever (occasionally)
  • Swelling of the nearest lymph glands

What Causes Boils?

Boils are typically caused by bacteria, usually Staphylococcus, that infect the oil gland of hair follicles, typically on the face, back of the neck, shoulders, buttocks, groin, and armpits. Once germs proliferate in the gland, infection and inflammation of the skin begins rapidly. The staph germs may enter the body through cuts, scratches, or other skin breaks (and for this reason the bacteria can be spread to family members).

Anyone can get a boil, but some circumstances can predispose people to them. These include diabetes, a suppressed immune system, exposure to certain industrial chemicals, treatment of skin problems with corticosteroids, and poor hygiene. Climate change can also cause skin boils.

What If You Do Nothing?

Boils are usually minor skin ailments. Most boils will rupture and drain on their own within two weeks. However, if left untreated, a boil can reach enormous size and become quite painful in a matter of days.

How to Treat Carbuncles

A carbuncle is an oversized boil or cluster of boils that grows sideways in the tissue beneath the skin, usually in areas where the skin is thick and inelastic—for example, the back of the neck. It is less common than a boil.

Carbuncles can be very painful and usually require medical attention—especially if they are on your face, if you notice red streaking around it, or if you have a fever. As with boils, carbuncles on your face are of great concern because the infection can spread, even to your brain.

Carbuncles may require a doctor or nurse to incise and drain them. You should never squeeze a carbuncle or try to drain it yourself. You'll be instructed to keep the area clean and to apply an antibacterial ointment and sterile gauze. You may also need to take antibiotics.

Home Remedies for Boils

  • Apply a few drop of garlic or onion juice on the affected areas.
  • Don’t squeeze. Using your fingers to squeeze a boil may force infected matter deeper into the skin.
  • Relieve pain and inflammation. Take aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen according to label directions to relieve pain and inflammation.
  • Drink a cup of bitter gourd juice. It effectively fights the bacteria that cause boils.
  • Use a hot compress. A boil on any body part except the face can often be treated effectively at home using hot, wet compresses. To make a compress, take a cotton cloth—a washcloth or a folded cotton handkerchief—dip it into hot water, and wring it out. Gently apply it to the infected area on and off for 10 minutes, re-moistening the cloth when necessary. Repeat this process three times a day. The compress will help both to relieve pain and swelling and to bring the infection to a head, causing the boil to rupture and the pus to drain.
  • Keep the area clean. To prevent reinfection, wash the area thoroughly with soap and water, then apply antibacterial ointment and cover the boil with a sterile gauze bandage. Change the bandage once a day, first washing the site and reapplying the ointment.

Boils Prevention

  • Practice good hygiene. Keep the site of the boil as clean as possible by washing it regularly with soap and water. If you are prone to boils, bathe regularly with a so

    Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

    Published: 01 Nov 2011

    Last Modified: 15 Sep 2015