Boil on Skin: Treatment, Causes, and More

A boil (furuncle), is a painful, pus-filled skin bump. Most often, it is caused by staph bacteria naturally found on the skin. These bacteria can cause inflammation and infection of the oil glands or hair follicles. Some boils may also be caused by a fungal infection.

Boils can occur anywhere on the body. Also known as:

  • an abscess (if it’s large)
  • a stye (if it’s on the eyelid)
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A boil is a painful bump on the skin that’s stuffed with pus.
Photography by DermNet New Zealand

Boil symptoms

Boils are small but can also be as big as a baseball. They appear as reddish pimples.

These are the symptoms:

  • redness
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Development of a yellow or white center
  • Pustules or crusting
  • Fatigue or fever
  • General feeling of depression

What causes boils?

Staph bacteria is found on your skin and in your nose. The bacteria can get into your skin via the hair follicles if it is scratched or broken. The boil that forms is the result of your body’s immune system trying to get rid of the bacteria.

You can find the hair follicle anywhere on your body. Boils most often are found in skin areas where there’s friction, like the:

  • Neck
  • Breasts
  • Face
  • Armpits
  • Buttocks
  • Thighs

It is easy to confuse boils and cysts. However, there are many differences.

A carbuncle simply refers to a group of boils. Cysts, on the contrary, are a closed, smooth, circular, under-skin sac that is filled with fluid or semisolid material.

Cysts and boils may look the same as bumps on your skin. A cyst is a fungal or bacterial infection.

Most cysts are slow-growing and benign (noncancerous), and they aren’t contagious. Boils, on other hand, can transmit bacteria and fungi to others.

Below is a table that outlines the differences between a bladder, a cyst and a carbuncle.

Do not pick at or boil a boil.

Boils can cause open sores that drain pus. You should not touch the boil area with unclean hands as you may spread bacteria or introduce new bacteria.

A doctor may perform a surgical procedure to drain the pus depending on the severity of your boil.

Boils are often caused by infection by bacteria such as staph. It is important to practice good hygiene.

In addition to regular hand washing, it’s important to clean and cover any cuts and scrapes. Avoid touching other people’s cuts or bandages, or sharing personal items that come in contact with the skin like razors or towels.

When using exercise equipment, cover it so that you don’t touch it. You should clean and disinfect surfaces that you use daily, especially those that contain bodily fluids, such as blood, urine, or vomit.

It’s possible to contract the staph bacteria, which is the most common bacteria to cause a boil. Other bacteria and fungi can also be contagious.

It’s best to avoid touching your boil. If you do touch your boil, be sure to wash your hands well before touching it.

You should take extra care if you or someone you know has a boil. Towels, toys, and clothing that have been in direct contact with the boil should be washed. Use hot water and soap to kill any bacteria or fungal growths on the items. Use the hot setting to dry the items.

Most boils heal themselves within one to three weeks. If the boil becomes painful or swells, consult a dermatologist to get treatment.

You should contact your doctor if another boil develops or if you have vision or fever problems.

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