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Today in Health & Wellness
HEALTH CONDITIONS

Boils

Overview
Symptoms
Risk Factors
Treatment and Management
Doctors to Consult
Overview

Boils or pigsa are bacterial skin infections originating deep in the hair follicles. They are generally caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, but they may be caused by other bacteria or fungi found on the skin's surface. Damage to the hair follicle allows these bacteria to enter deeper into the tissues of the follicle and the tissue underneath. They appear as blister-like swellings filled with pus around the follicle. It occurs most commonly on the face, back of the neck, buttocks, upper legs and groin area, armpits, and upper torso.

Types of boils

  • Furuncle. A furuncle can have one or more openings onto the skin and may be associated with a fever or chills. The term furuncle is used to refer to a typical boil that occurs within a hair follicle.

  • Carbuncle. The term typically used to represent a larger abscess that involves a group of hair follicles and involves a larger area than a furuncle. A carbuncle can form a hardened lump that can be felt in the skin.

  • Cystic acne. A type of abscess that is formed when oil ducts become clogged and infected. Cystic acne affects deeper skin tissue than the more superficial inflammation from common acne. Cystic acne is most common on the face and typically occurs in the teenage years.

  • Hidradenitis suppurativa. A condition in which there are multiple abscesses that form under the armpits and often in the groin area. These areas are a result of local inflammation of the sweat glands.

  • Pilonidal cyst. A unique kind of abscess that occurs in the crease of the buttocks. Pilonidal cysts often begin as tiny areas of infection in the base of the area of skin from which hair grows (the hair follicle). With irritation from direct pressure, over time the inflamed area enlarges to become a firm, painful, and tender nodule that makes it difficult to sit without discomfort. These frequently form after long trips that involve prolonged sitting.
Symptoms
  • Red, swollen nodule in skin
  • Mildly to moderately painful to touch
  • Usually pea-sized, but may be as large as a golf ball
  • May weep, ooze, crust

Other symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • General ill-feeling
  • Itching before the boil develops
  • Skin redness around the boil
Risk Factors
  • Ingrown hair
  • Splinter or other foreign material that has become lodged in the skin
  • Plugged sweat glands that become infected
  • Any break in the skin, such as a cut or scrape, can develop into an abscess if it becomes infected with bacteria.
  • Diseases that impair the immune system (diabetes, kidney failure) can increase the risk of developing boils.
  • Steroids and chemotherapeutic drugs suppress the immune system and can likewise increase the tendency to develop boils.
Commonly Prescribed Drugs
Treatment and Management
  • Refrain from scratching the lesion. An infection may set in if the skin breaks
  • Wash your hands very well after touching a boil
  • Do not re-use or share washcloths or towels. Wash clothing, washcloths, towels, and sheets or other items that contact infected areas in very hot (preferably boiling) water
  • Change dressings often and throw them out with the drainage, such as by placing them in a bag that can be closed tightly before throwing it out
  • Antibiotics are usually recommended if you have a high temperature, a secondary infection has developed, severe pain and discomfort are present. A penicillin-based antibiotic called flucloxacillin is usually recommended, but if you are allergic to penicillin, alternative antibiotics such as erythromycin and clarithromycin can be used. It is important to consult a physician before using any antibiotic.
  • The primary home remedy for most boils is heat application. Heat application increases the circulation to the area and allows the body to better fight off the infection by bringing antibodies and white blood cells to the site of infection.
Home Remedies
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