Also known as skin abscesses, boils form as a result of a cut or break in the skin, which leads to a bacterial infection. They are characterized as a red, tender area with a painful, pus-filled center that can open spontaneously or by surgical incision. Some boils are caused by an ingrown hair. Others are caused by plugged-up sweat glands, such as some types of cystic acne. Anyone can get a boil. They grow quickly and are usually painful until they drain. However, left alone a boil will naturally come to a head and burst open, allowing the pus to drain and the skin to heal. People with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to boils than the general population.
Boils tend to occur on parts of the body that have hair or sweat glands and are exposed to friction, typically on the face, neck, armpits or buttocks. There are a variety of different types of boils:
- Furuncle or Carbuncle. These abscesses are caused by the Staphylococcus aureus bacterium. A furuncle is an individual boil; carbuncles are deep clusters of boils that most often form on the back of the neck, shoulders or thighs.
- Pilonidal Cyst. An infected hair follicle around the buttocks area caused by long periods of sitting. Pilonidal cysts almost always require medical treatment.
- Hidredenitis Suppurativa. These are multiple abscesses that form from blocked sweat glands in the armpits or groin areas.
- Cystic Acne. These boils are situated more deeply into skin tissue than the more superficial forms of acne. It typically occurs among teenagers.
Boils respond well to home remedies. To promote healing, apply heat to the boil in the form of hot soaks or compresses. Keep the area clean, apply over-the-counter antibiotics and then cover with gauze. Do not puncture or squeeze the boil because it can lead to further infection. If the boil does not go away within two weeks, is accompanied by a fever or is painful, contact your dermatologist. The doctor will clean, lance and drain the boil and prescribe an antibiotic to alleviate the infection.