Abscesses, commonly referred to as boils, are inflamed lumps that emerge beneath the skin and can be quite painful. These boils result from infections in hair follicles or oil glands. Boils can appear on any part of the body, but they are often found on the neck, face, buttocks, thighs, and armpits.
Causes of Boils
Boils are mainly caused by Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that usually resides on the skin and inside the nose, but can infiltrate the body through a wound or skin breakage. Other bacterial strains such as Streptococcus pyogenes can also cause boils. The risk factors for boils development include:
- Poor hygiene
- Exposure to harsh chemicals
- Weakened immune system
- Friction from shaving or wearing tight clothes
- Certain medications like steroids
Symptoms of Boils
Boils commonly start as red, tender bumps that progressively grow in size within a few days. The sizes of boils can range from a pea size to a golf ball. They may be accompanied by a fever or feeling of general illness. As the boil expands, it may develop a yellow or white center, which is pus that has collected beneath the skin. The skin over the boil may also be tender and swollen.
Types of Boils
Various types of boils include:
- Furuncles: single boils that manifest on the skin and are often caused by Staphylococcus aureus.
- Carbuncles: clusters of boils that are typically more massive than furuncles and can cause significant pain. Carbuncles are also more likely to induce a fever or other systemic symptoms than furuncles.
- Cystic acne: deep, inflamed, and painful cysts that occur on the neck, face, chest, and back due to clogged hair follicles.
Treatments for Boils
Most boils tend to heal without treatment within several weeks. Nonetheless, some treatments can help to alleviate the pain and quicken the healing process. They include:
- Applying warm compresses to the affected area for several minutes multiple times a day.
- Taking over-the-counter painkillers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.
- Keeping the affected region clean and dry to prevent further infection.
- Taking antibiotics if the boil is severe or there are multiple boils.
- In rare cases, a boil may need to be drained by a healthcare professional. This involves making a small incision in the skin and draining the pus out of the boil.
Several measures can be taken to prevent the development of boils, such as:
- Practicing good hygiene, such as washing hands frequently and showering after heavy sweating or exercise.
- Avoiding sharing personal items like towels, razors, or clothing.
- Avoiding tight-fitting clothes that can cause skin friction.
- Promptly treating any cuts or breaks in the skin with antiseptic to prevent infection.
Boils can be uncomfortable and painful, but they are usually not a serious cause for concern. Good hygiene practices and measures to prevent the development of boils can help to keep your skin healthy and infection-free. Most boils tend to heal on their own within a few weeks, but if the boil does not heal or you experience symptoms of a severe infection, it is important to seek medical attention. Contact Dr. Neily at our Venice dermatology office to schedule an appointment.