How Are Boils Treated?
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Boils - Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Published on Nov 04, 2022   -  5 min read


A boil or furuncle is a pus-filled bump that develops under the skin. Read this article to know what causes them, how they appear, and how they are treated.

What Are Boils?

A boil or furuncle is a painful, pus-filled bump that develops in the skin. Boils usually appear as red bumps, quickly growing in size and filling with pus. Boils typically result from the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus infecting a hair follicle. The most common locations of boils are the face, neck, armpits, shoulder, buttocks, and thighs, but they can also appear anywhere on the body. Many boils get improved with at-home care. However, larger boils need additional workup and treatment by a healthcare professional. A group of boils forms a severe infection called a carbuncle.

What Are the Causes of Boils?

Most boils are caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, a type of bacteria commonly found on the skin and inside the nose. The bacteria enter the skin through a cut or a hair follicle. As a response, the body’s immune system sends the first line of defense, white blood cells, to the area. The white blood cells build up and damage the skin leading to pus formation.

What Are the Symptoms of Boils?

Boils typically start as a hard, reddish, or purplish, painful lump, usually about half an inch in size. The boils develop over a few hours or days. There may be the following severe signs of infections:

  • The area becomes more painful.

  • The boils may feel warm to the touch.

  • It may feel squishy or firm as it gets filled with pus.

  • It often starts smaller than a pencil eraser but can enlarge as large as a golf ball (more than 2 inches).

  • The skin around the center has a yellow or white center similar to a pimple.

  • The boil may ooze pus as the body fights the infection.

  • The bacteria that caused the boil may spread to other body parts. People with boils can also pass the infection to others through close contact or sharing personal items.

What Are the Risk Factors of Boils?

Although anyone can develop boils, the following factors can increase the risk of developing it:

  • Diabetes.

  • Skin problems, such as acne and eczema.

  • Close contact with a person with a staph infection.

  • Living with someone who has a boil.

  • Weakened immune system.

  • Poor nutrition.

  • Poor hygiene.

  • Exposure to harmful chemicals that irritate the skin.

What Are the Possible Complications of Boils?

Bacteria from a boil can cause the following complications:

  • Boils can enter the bloodstream and lead to a severe reaction (sepsis).

  • It may get into the brain and cause serious problems such as meningitis.

  • It can infect the affected skin and the area under the skin (cellulitis).

  • The bacteria can spread to the spinal cord, bones, heart, and other organs, leading to severe infection and death.

  • It can lead to permanent scarring on the affected area.

  • Boils may come back in the same area or never completely go away. These recurrent boils can indicate the presence of a life-threatening infection called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

How Are Boils Diagnosed?

The health care provider can make the diagnosis with a physical examination. Wide varieties of bacteria-causing boils have become resistant to certain types of antibiotics. So the provider may recommend lab testing to determine what type of antibiotic would work best in a particular situation.

How Are Boils Treated?

Medical Treatment

For larger boils and carbuncles, treatment options may include:

  • Incision and Drainage: If drainage is needed, the health care provider may drain a large boil by making an incision in it. Deep infections that cannot be drained completely can be packed with sterile gauze to help absorb and remove additional pus.

  • Antibiotics: In some cases, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help treat severe or recurrent infections. If the boil is drained completely, a culture can be done to determine which type of bacteria has caused the infection and to check which antibiotics would work best to treat the infection.

Home Remedies

Most boils, especially small boils, heal with home treatments. The following measures may help to heal the infection more quickly and prevent it from spreading from one to another:

  • Apply warm compresses to the affected area several times a day for about 10 minutes to let the boil rupture and drain more quickly.

  • Avoid squeezing or lancing a boil, as it can spread the infection.

  • Wash hands thoroughly after treating a boil to prevent contamination.

  • Wash clothing, towels, compresses, or washcloth that have touched the infected area.

  • Once the boil starts draining, wash it with an antibacterial soap until all the pus is gone, and clean the area with rubbing alcohol. Apply a topical antibiotic and a bandage.

  • Continue washing the infected area at least two to three times a day.

  • Avoid popping the boil with a needle, as this can worsen the infection.

How Are Boils Prevented?

The following measures can help prevent boils:

  • Practice good personal hygiene.

  • Stay as healthy as possible.

  • Carefully wash articles of clothing, bedding, and towels of a family member who has boils.

  • Clean and treat minor skin wounds.

  • Wash hands regularly using an antibacterial soap or gel. Hand washing is the best defense against germs.

  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer often.

  • Always keep cuts and abrasions clean and protect them with sterile, dry bandages until they completely heal.

  • Avoid sharing personal belongings as much as possible. Do not share personal items, such as towels, sheets, razors, clothing, washcloth, athletic equipment, or other items.

  • Avoid close contact with people with an individual already infected with a boil.

What Is the Outlook for People With Boils?

Most boils get better and clear up in about two to three weeks. Boils usually do not cause long-term health problems. But, some people may have repeated boils and cannot prevent them. Boils in areas such as the ear canal or nose can be very painful. Boils that cluster together may cause a condition called carbunculosis. A person may have a small scar if the healthcare provider drains the pus.


Boils are painful, pus-filled bumps that develop under the skin. They can be painful and unsightly, but they rarely cause long-term health problems. Many boils heal with home-based treatments. But it is a good idea to call a health care provider if a person experiences severe signs of a boil. The provider may help ensure the infection does not spread or worsen and provide treatment as required. In addition, practice good hygiene measures to reduce the risk of developing a boil.

Last reviewed at:
04 Nov 2022  -  5 min read




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