What is causing that bump?
When you hear the word ‘boil,’ what is the first thing that comes to mind? Most likely, you are probably thinking of a large, gross-looking red bump that is on your skin. This is a pretty accurate description, but not all boils are large. What causes a boil to form? How do you treat them? Can you prevent them from occurring?
Boils are also known as furuncles and form under your skin. They start as red lumps that are tender when you touch them and quickly fill with pus causing them to grow in size resulting in more pain. Eventually, the boil will rupture and drain. The main reason boils form is because bacteria infects and inflames an area on under your skin. Boils can occur anywhere on your body, but most people notice them on their face, neck, armpits, buttocks or thighs. This is due to these areas have hair and are more likely to sweat or encounter friction than other parts of your body. Sometimes, the infection occurs in the hair follicles, which is known as folliculitis. Often, these itch more than hurt and appear similar to acne pustules (which are when your pores become blocked by dirt causing inflammation, but not necessarily infection). Sometimes, boils form close together and can become connected under your skin. These areas are called carbuncles and usually appear on the back of your neck, shoulders or thighs. Due to the connection, carbuncles cause the infection to be deeper under your skin and more likely to result in a scar. Chronic furunculosis is when you develop an area boils that occur over a longer period of time or reoccur.
Boils and carbuncles start the same as a small red bump that is painful. The skin around the area is also red and swollen. Over a period of a few days, the boil increases in size (it can become the size of a baseball) because of the pus that is accumulating. Eventually, you’ll notice the formation of a yellow-white tip. Typically, a boil will rupture on its own and drain out the pus. If you have a carbuncle, it is possible for infection to form small little pockets under your skin where pus gets trapped. If you have a carbuncle, you are also likely to have a fever, body chills and feel sick.
Treatment for boils is done at home without any intervention from a medical professional. The best way to provide treatment is by applying warm compresses. They help to alleviate pain and encourage drainage. It is essential to not pick or squeeze the boil because this can spread the infection to other areas nearby. When you are done caring for your boil, be sure to wash your hands to get rid of any residual bacteria to prevent spreading it. If your boil occurs on your face, rapidly increases in size/pain, causes a fever, is more than two inches across, taking a long time to heal, keeps coming back or you have more than one boil at a time, you should see your doctor. If you have a large boil or carbuncle, your doctor will probably need to make a small incision into the area to help facilitate drainage. If the infection is deep, they will pack the area with sterile gauze to help soak up additional pus and allow the area to heal from the inside out. Also, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to help your body clear up the infection.
While it isn’t possible to completely eliminate the chances of you developing a boil or carbuncle, there are several things that you can do to help decrease the probability. The best thing you can do is to wash your hands regularly and properly with mild soap. This means wetting your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold) and then lathering your hands with soap. It is essential to include the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. You should scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. When you are done scrubbing, rinse your hands well under clean, running water and then dry them using a clean towel or allow them to air dry. If you need to turn off the running water or open a door to leave the bathroom, then use a paper towel to touch these surfaces. If you have any cuts or abrasions, keep them clean and cover them with a bandage to prevent germs from infecting them. Don’t share personal items, such as towels, sheets, razors, clothing or athletic equipment. If you do have a cut, sore or boil, wash towels, sheets and clothing that come into contact with the area in hot water with detergent and bleach and dry the items in a dryer with the heat setting on high. Remember, if you already have a cut or boil, don’t scratch at it because this can increase your risk of spreading bacteria to the area.
Boils are not something anyone wants to deal with, but they can easily be treated and managed if you take the appropriate steps. If you have any questions or concerns, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the Cleveland Clinic’s Boils and Carbuncles page at https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15153-boils–carbuncles