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Boil Causes and Treatment

Updated on November 27, 2009

A boil, or furuncle, starts as an infected hair follicle and develops into a small superficial abscess that is acutely painful, red and tender. Because these bacterial infections start in hair follicles, people who are very hairy, particularly on areas which are irritated frequently such as the bottom, will develop more boils than others. Other commonly affected areas are the armpits and groin.

A boil gradually enlarges, causing more and more pain (particularly in areas where the skin is tight) until it eventually ruptures, discharging its contained pus. The infection then gradually settles. Once a boil is present, the infection can easily spread across the skin or via the fingers to cause the eruption of boils in other areas. In severe cases, the infection may enter the blood stream to cause septicemia, fever, and a general feeling of illness. Boils should never be squeezed, as the pus they contain may rupture internally, and spread through the blood stream to the brain and other vital organs.

A carbuncle is several boils in a limited area that join together to form an interconnecting infected mass.

Fungal infections can also cause boil-like eruptions, as can a number of less common diseases, including anthrax and orf.

Treatment involves antibiotic tablets or capsules by mouth, applying antiseptic or antibiotic ointment to the boil, and when pus is obviously present, lancing the boil with a scalpel or needle to release the pus. Immobilization of an infected joint may help ease the pain.

Repeated attacks may require long-term antibiotic treatment, antiseptic soaps and antiseptic lotions applied regularly, to prevent recurrences. Patients with diabetes or kidney failure are particularly susceptible to boils, and recurrent attacks should lead the doctor to exclude these diseases as a possible cause.

Please Note:


  • The information provided on this page is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a registered physician or other healthcare professional.

  • The content of this page is intended only to provide a summary and general overview. Do not use this information to disregard medical advice, nor to delay seeking medical advice.

  • Be sure to consult with your doctor for a professional diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment.

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