Disease: Boils
(Skin Abscesses)

    Boils facts

    • A boil, or skin abscess, is a collection of pus that forms in the skin.
    • Boils symptoms and signs include
      • a firm reddened bump,
      • tender, swollen skin surrounding the bump,
      • the bump may increase in size,
      • pus-filled head on the bump, which may spontaneously drain, weep, or ooze.
    Picture: What does a boil look like?
    • Antibiotics alone can be inadequate in treating abscesses. The primary treatments for boils include hot packs and draining ("lancing") the abscess but only when it is soft and ready to drain. Most boils resolve on their own or with home remedies.
    • If the individual has a fever or long-term illness, such as cancer or diabetes, or is taking medications that suppress the immune system, he or she should contact a health-care professional if a boil (abscess) develops.
    • There are a number of ways to reduce the likelihood of developing some forms of boils, but boils are not completely preventable.
    • Boils themselves are not contagious, but the bacteria that cause boils are.

    What is a boil? What are boil symptoms and signs?

    A boil is a localized infection in the skin that begins as a reddened, tender area. Over time, the area becomes firm, hard, and increasingly tender. Eventually, the center of the boil softens and becomes filled with infection-fighting white blood cells from the bloodstream to eradicate the infection. This collection of white blood cells, bacteria, and proteins is known as pus. Finally, the pus "forms a head," which can be surgically opened or may spontaneously drain out through the surface of the skin. Pus enclosed within tissue is referred to as an abscess. A boil is also referred to as a skin abscess. Boils can occur anywhere on the body, including the trunk, extremities, buttocks, or other areas.

    There are several different types of boils:

    • Furuncle or carbuncle: This is an abscess in the skin usually caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. 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. The term carbuncle is 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. The condition of having chronic, recurring boils is referred to as furunculosis or carbunculosis.

    Picture of a carbuncle
    • Cystic acne: This is 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: This is 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. This form of skin infection is difficult to treat with antibiotics alone and typically requires a surgical procedure to remove the involved sweat glands in order to stop the skin inflammation.
    • Pilonidal cyst: This is 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 abscesses frequently form after long trips that involve prolonged sitting.
    Picture of a pilonidal cyst

    What causes boils to form?

    There are many causes of boils. Some boils can be caused by an ingrown hair. Others can form as the result of a splinter or other foreign material that has become lodged in the skin. Others boil, such as those of acne, are caused by plugged sweat glands that become infected. Often the exact cause of a boil cannot be determined.

    The skin is an essential part of our immune defense against materials and microbes that are foreign to our body. Any break in the skin, such as a cut or scrape, can develop into an abscess should it become infected with bacteria.

    What are risk factors for boils?

    Anyone can develop a boil. However, people with certain illnesses or who take certain medications that weaken the body's immune system (the natural defense system against foreign materials or microbes) are more likely to develop boils. Illnesses that are associated with impaired immune systems include diabetes and kidney failure. Diseases in which there is inadequate antibody production (such as hypogammaglobulinemia) can increase the tendency to develop boils.

    Many medications can suppress the normal immune system and increase the risk of developing boils and other infections. These medications include cortisone medications (prednisone [Deltasone, Liquid Pred] and prednisolone [Pediapred Oral Liquid, Medrol]) and medications used for cancer chemotherapy.

    How are boils diagnosed?

    The diagnosis of a boil can be made by observation of the typical signs and symptoms. Blood tests or specialized laboratory tests are not required to make the diagnosis of a boil. If the infection within a boil has spread to deeper tissues or is extensive, cultures of the pus may be taken from the wound area to identify the precise type of bacteria responsible for the infection. This can guide the choice of antibiotics for treatment.

    What are boil treatments and home remedies?

    Home treatment is an option for most simple boils. Ideally, treatment should begin as soon as a boil is noticed since early treatment may prevent later complications.

    The primary home remedy for most boils is heat application, usually with hot soaks or hot packs. It may be necessary to apply them 20 minutes at a time for three to four times daily. 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.

    If a boil occurs as a result of shaving, it is recommended to avoid shaving in that area until the boil has healed to avoid spread of bacteria.

    As long as the boil is small and firm, opening the area and draining the boil is not helpful, even if the area is painful. However, once the boil becomes soft or "forms a head" (that is, a small pustule or area of pus is noted in the boil), it can be ready to drain (lance). Once drained, pain relief can be dramatic. Most small boils, such as those that form around hairs, drain on their own with hot soaks. On occasion, and especially with larger boils, medical treatment is required. In this situation, the boil will need to be drained or "lanced" by a health-care professional. Frequently, these larger boils contain several pockets of pus that must be opened and drained.

    Antibiotics are often used to eliminate any accompanying bacterial infection, especially if there is an infection of the surrounding skin. However, antibiotics are not needed in every situation. In fact, antibiotics have difficulty penetrating the outer wall of an abscess well and often will not cure an abscess without additional surgical drainage.

    When should someone seek medical attention for a boil?

    While boils typically resolve on their own and have an excellent prognosis, there are special situations in which medical care should be sought when boils develop. Rarely, boils may spread or persist, leading to more widespread infections.

    Any boil or abscess in a patient with diabetes or a patient with an underlying illness that can be associated with a weakened immune system (such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.) should be evaluated by a health-care professional. Additionally, many medicines, especially prednisone, that suppress the immune system (the natural infection-fighting system of the body) can complicate what would be an otherwise simple boil. Those who are taking such medications should consult their health-care professional if they develop boils. (If someone is not sure about his or her medications' effects on the immune system, a pharmacist may be able to explain which medicines to be concerned about.)

    Any boil that is associated with a fever should receive medical attention. Increasing reddening of the nearby skin and/or formation of red streaks on the skin (signs that the infection may be spreading), the failure of a boil to "form a head," and the development of multiple boils are other symptoms that warrant a visit to a health-care professional. Medical attention is also required for boils in an infant. Boils located on the face, spine, groin, or in the rectum may also require medical attention.

    A "pilonidal cyst," a boil that occurs between the buttocks, is a special case. These almost always require medical treatment, including drainage and packing (putting gauze in the opened abscess to assure it continues to drain). Finally, any painful boil that is not rapidly improving should be seen by a health-care professional.

    What causes boils to form?

    There are many causes of boils. Some boils can be caused by an ingrown hair. Others can form as the result of a splinter or other foreign material that has become lodged in the skin. Others boil, such as those of acne, are caused by plugged sweat glands that become infected. Often the exact cause of a boil cannot be determined.

    The skin is an essential part of our immune defense against materials and microbes that are foreign to our body. Any break in the skin, such as a cut or scrape, can develop into an abscess should it become infected with bacteria.

    What are risk factors for boils?

    Anyone can develop a boil. However, people with certain illnesses or who take certain medications that weaken the body's immune system (the natural defense system against foreign materials or microbes) are more likely to develop boils. Illnesses that are associated with impaired immune systems include diabetes and kidney failure. Diseases in which there is inadequate antibody production (such as hypogammaglobulinemia) can increase the tendency to develop boils.

    Many medications can suppress the normal immune system and increase the risk of developing boils and other infections. These medications include cortisone medications (prednisone [Deltasone, Liquid Pred] and prednisolone [Pediapred Oral Liquid, Medrol]) and medications used for cancer chemotherapy.

    How are boils diagnosed?

    The diagnosis of a boil can be made by observation of the typical signs and symptoms. Blood tests or specialized laboratory tests are not required to make the diagnosis of a boil. If the infection within a boil has spread to deeper tissues or is extensive, cultures of the pus may be taken from the wound area to identify the precise type of bacteria responsible for the infection. This can guide the choice of antibiotics for treatment.

    What are boil treatments and home remedies?

    Home treatment is an option for most simple boils. Ideally, treatment should begin as soon as a boil is noticed since early treatment may prevent later complications.

    The primary home remedy for most boils is heat application, usually with hot soaks or hot packs. It may be necessary to apply them 20 minutes at a time for three to four times daily. 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.

    If a boil occurs as a result of shaving, it is recommended to avoid shaving in that area until the boil has healed to avoid spread of bacteria.

    As long as the boil is small and firm, opening the area and draining the boil is not helpful, even if the area is painful. However, once the boil becomes soft or "forms a head" (that is, a small pustule or area of pus is noted in the boil), it can be ready to drain (lance). Once drained, pain relief can be dramatic. Most small boils, such as those that form around hairs, drain on their own with hot soaks. On occasion, and especially with larger boils, medical treatment is required. In this situation, the boil will need to be drained or "lanced" by a health-care professional. Frequently, these larger boils contain several pockets of pus that must be opened and drained.

    Antibiotics are often used to eliminate any accompanying bacterial infection, especially if there is an infection of the surrounding skin. However, antibiotics are not needed in every situation. In fact, antibiotics have difficulty penetrating the outer wall of an abscess well and often will not cure an abscess without additional surgical drainage.

    When should someone seek medical attention for a boil?

    While boils typically resolve on their own and have an excellent prognosis, there are special situations in which medical care should be sought when boils develop. Rarely, boils may spread or persist, leading to more widespread infections.

    Any boil or abscess in a patient with diabetes or a patient with an underlying illness that can be associated with a weakened immune system (such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.) should be evaluated by a health-care professional. Additionally, many medicines, especially prednisone, that suppress the immune system (the natural infection-fighting system of the body) can complicate what would be an otherwise simple boil. Those who are taking such medications should consult their health-care professional if they develop boils. (If someone is not sure about his or her medications' effects on the immune system, a pharmacist may be able to explain which medicines to be concerned about.)

    Any boil that is associated with a fever should receive medical attention. Increasing reddening of the nearby skin and/or formation of red streaks on the skin (signs that the infection may be spreading), the failure of a boil to "form a head," and the development of multiple boils are other symptoms that warrant a visit to a health-care professional. Medical attention is also required for boils in an infant. Boils located on the face, spine, groin, or in the rectum may also require medical attention.

    A "pilonidal cyst," a boil that occurs between the buttocks, is a special case. These almost always require medical treatment, including drainage and packing (putting gauze in the opened abscess to assure it continues to drain). Finally, any painful boil that is not rapidly improving should be seen by a health-care professional.

    Source: http://www.rxlist.com

    There are many causes of boils. Some boils can be caused by an ingrown hair. Others can form as the result of a splinter or other foreign material that has become lodged in the skin. Others boil, such as those of acne, are caused by plugged sweat glands that become infected. Often the exact cause of a boil cannot be determined.

    The skin is an essential part of our immune defense against materials and microbes that are foreign to our body. Any break in the skin, such as a cut or scrape, can develop into an abscess should it become infected with bacteria.

    Source: http://www.rxlist.com

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