A boil is a red swelling on the skin where a pus-filled nodule arises. It is caused by a deep inflammation of a hair follicle in the skin. The place gets thick and hurts. Boils are larger and more painful than regular pimples, which many young people suffer from. The condition is generally mild and will pass on its own.
A boil is the result of an inflamed hair follicle. This inflammation is caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. After infection, it usually takes four to ten days before the first symptoms occur. Boils can also occur in skin diseases where the skin is already irritated, such as eczema or atopy.
Insufficient hygiene increases the risk of boils. Dirt and bacteria remain on the skin and are thus more likely to penetrate the skin and cause infection. Boils are more common with excessive sweating and in some diseases, such as diabetes. Overweight people are also more likely to get a boil, because they have more skin folds. A boil is contagious.
A boil begins as a red bump that feels painful, burning or throbbing. Within a few days, the bump becomes hard and acquires a yellow head. Lightly touching the boil does already hurt. Boils can arise at any place on the body where hair grows. They are mainly found in the armpit or groin, on the buttocks, in the neck, face or nose and are one to two centimeters in size. Several hair follicles can be inflamed simultaneously. This is called a carbuncle.
The diagnosis of boil is made on the basis of the medical history, the story of the patient and the symptoms. Sometimes, a little pus is removed for examination. So can be determined which bacterium caused the infection and the appropriate medication can be prescribed.
Boils usually disappear on their own without treatment. If the boil is ripe and bursts, the pain diminishes rapidly because the pressure is off. The ripening of a boil can be accelerated by putting a hot compress (for example, a clean cloth soaked in hot water or a tuft medicated cotton-wool) on the inflamed area. Moreover, this relieves the pain. Almost every boil heals within a week, once the pus is out. Even if the boil doesn't burst, it usually heals within a few weeks.
Sometimes, medicines are needed with boils. For example, when a person also becomes ill and gets fever, or when the boil is located on or around the upper lip or nose. Then, the general practitioner may prescribe antibiotics to stop the infection. Some people are proposed by their doctor to take antibiotics in an earlier stage. These people are more susceptible to infection with staphylococci and/or streptococci, such as people with impaired immune systems, with diabetes mellitus or people with an artificial valve in their hearts. They must take antibiotics as soon as an infection is imminent.
When the boil is very painful, the patient has fever or becomes ill, an incision in the swelling may be needed to let the pus be discharged. This should be done by the general practitioner. Do not prick or press the boil yourself. Afterwards, rinse the wound daily with lukewarm tap water or under the shower. Apply a new bandage around it after rinsing. In case dirt comes out of the wound, a wet bandage can sometimes help to get the wound clean.
Boils heal usually well and without complications, although sometimes with some scarring. It is possible that the condition recurs.
- Never squeeze a boil. There is a chance that the pus is pressed further inside, allowing the bacteria to enter into the bloodstream and spread. Then, a new boil can arise again at another place.
- Rubbing with salve (white or black) was once widely recommended, but it’s better not to use it anymore because it can cause hypersensitivity.
- A boil is highly contagious, so it’s important not to touch it. If you do, it spreads the bacteria that cause the boil and the boil grows bigger or more boils arise.
- Ensure good hygiene, so that the chance of spreading the bacteria is as small as possible. Keep the boil and its surrounding clean with water and soap for as long as the boil has not yet been broken. When the boil has broken, a gauze with betadine can be applied.
- Cut your nails short.
- When you suffer from boils often, wash your body two to three times a week with a soap or shampoo with povidon-iodine or chlorhexidine.