Boils and carbuncles are pus-filled bumps that are often painful and form under bacteria infected skin, causing it to inflame your hair follicles.
Boils often develop as red and tender lumps during the initial stages. These lumps will quickly get filled with pus as they grow larger, causing more discomfort until they rupture. A carbuncle is a collection of boils that form under the affected regions of the skin.
A single boil can heal with self-treatment measures however, you must avoid pricking it or trying or to drain the pus as this may infect other regions of the skin. See your doctor if you have a very painful boil or carbuncle, if symptoms persist for more than two weeks or if the boil or carbuncle accompanies a fever.
Signs and symptoms
Boils usually develop on the face, neck, thighs, armpits or buttocks, but they can appear anywhere on the skin, usually on hairy areas where there is heat, friction and sweat.
Signs and symptoms of boils include:
- Painful red bump—starts off as a pea sized lump
- Inflamed, red and swollen skin around the lump
- After a few days the size of the lump within a few days as it fills with pus – the boil can be as big as a golf ball
- Appearance of a yellow or whitish tip on the bump which will eventually rupture and drain pus
The boil will drain eventually and the pain will subside. Usually small boils disappear without leaving any scars; however, larger boils may leave scars. It is important that you do not try to burst the boil yourself and allow it to rupture on its own.
Carbuncles are clusters of boils that are more likely to occur in the thighs, shoulders and the back of the neck.
- Result in severe and deeper infections compared to individual boils
- Develop more slowly than individual boils
- Heal slower than single boils
- Leave scars
Signs and symptoms that may occur along with a carbuncle include:
- Feeling sick
When to seek medical help
Small boils can be taken care of with self-treatment, however, you may have to see a doctor if:
- You have a boil on the face or your spine
- The boil worsens rapidly and causes a lot of pain
- The boil is very large and has not healed within two weeks
- The boil accompanies a fever
- You are having frequent boils
- You have a suppressed immune system due to organ transplant, HIV/AIDS or corticosteroid use
- You have recently been hospitalized
It is important that children and elderly receive medical care in case they suffer from boils or carbuncles.
Small boils can generally be treated with warm compresses to control pain and encourage drainage.
In case of larger boils and carbuncles, specific treatment usually includes drainage of the boils through an incision and sometimes, the doctor may also prescribe antibiotics.