What is boils?


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Know the basics

What is boils?

A boil is a painful, pus-filled bump on the skin. This is usually caused by an infection of the hair follicules on the skin. Boils can affect many areas of the body such as the face, neck, armpit, buttocks and thighs. You may have more than 1 boil at one time. It is not a serious condition and can easily be treated.

How common is boils?

Boils are very common. It can occur in men and women. It is usually associated with another underlying cause. Please discuss with your doctor for more information.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of boils?

Boils usually starts to appear as a small painful bump, with a diameter ranging from 1.5 to 5 cm. Boils may appear on the neck, face, waist area, groin, under the arms and in the buttocks. Boils can swell into a bigger the more painful sore.

Some boils can stay deep in the skin, then emerging, causing bloody discharge and white liquor. After the boils have pus, the pain will be less redness and swelling but still last for many days or weeks, maybe even leave a scar.

If not treated promptly, boils can penetrate the blood and infect other surrounding organs to cause infections.

There may be some signs and symptoms not mentioned above. If you have any questions about these signs, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • More than one boil appears at a time;
  • A boil affects the face and becomes bothersome;
  • Your symptoms worsen or become extremely painful;
  • You have a fever;
  • The boil is larger than 5 cm;
  • The boil does not healed within two weeks;
  • Boils keep coming back.

Know the causes

What causes boils?

Boils occur when hair follicles become infected by bacteria that are found on the skin. The most common bacteria that cause boils are Staphylococus aureus (commonly found on the skin and in the nose). The boil usually starts in the hair follicle and may gradually infect the deeper layers of the skin. The boils can spread to others if there is contact with the infectious pus of the boils. In some cases, boils may develop skin lesions, enabling easier penetration of bacteria through a scratch or insect bite.

Other causes may include:

  • Wound infection;
  • Poor hygiene;
  • Wearing tight clothing;
  • Abrasions;
  • Frequent exposure to some chemicals or cosmetics;
  • Disorders such as diabetes or alcoholism may also increase the likelihood of boils caused by the body’s immune system are weakened.

The boil may worsen and cause the bacterial infection to enter the blood. This may lead to a more severe infection.

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for boils?

Boils may occur with all subjects, including healthy people. However, the following factors may increase your risk:

  • Close skin contact with a person with boils.
  • Diabetes: This disease can cause you immune system to weaken, which would make it harder for your body to fight against infections.
  • Skin conditions: Other issues of the skin, such as acne and eczema may increase your risk for boils. Because they destroy the protective layer of the skin making you more prone to boils.
  • Weak immune system: There are some conditions that may impair your immune system, such as HIV.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is boils diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose boils by checking the infected skin and may take a sample of the pus discharge to get tested.

How is boils treated?

Boils may heal by themselves after a short period of itching and mild pain. For more severe cases, your treatment options may include the following:

  • Open and drain the boil. This is usually done within 2 weeks of the boil. For mild cases, you can do this at home. You should:
    • Put warm, moist, compresses on the boil several times a day to speed draining and healing.
    • Never squeeze a boil or try to cut it open at home. This can spread the infection.
    • Continue to put warm, wet, compresses on the area after the boil opens.
  • For more severe cases, you may need surgery to drain the deep and large boils.
  • Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics for boils that become severely infected.

Every situation may be different. You should talk to your doctor to discuss what the best treatment option for you is.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage boils?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with boils:

  • Use antibiotics as directed by your doctor.
  • Reduce physical activity until the infection healed completely. Avoid sweating and sports while under boil.
  • Keep your skin clean.
  • Use a warm compress. This will help drain the boil.
  • Never squeeze your own boil. This may spread the infection.
  • Change clothes and bed sheets every day and wash with hot water.
  • Contact your doctor if you have fever or the symptoms are still not relieved after 3-4 days of treatment.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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