Boils are one of the most common, and often most painful, of skin conditions. They can occur in individuals of any age but are more likely to occur among those with a compromised immune system. While they can be unsightly and uncomfortable, in most cases they clear up on their own and do not require medical intervention.
The clinical definition of a boil is a localized infection of the skin that can become filled with a combination of bacteria and white blood cells known as “pus”. In most cases, the growths will form on or near a hair follicle but they can also form in pores that become blocked. When the infection builds, the collection of pus will cause a painful swelling with a red patch of skin around it. The growth may or may not form a “head”, or central inflamed area. There are several different types of boils, the most common being “furuncles”, which occur within a hair follicle, and “carbuncles”, which involve a group of follicles.
What causes boils to appear on the skin?
There are several possible causes of boils, including an ingrown hair or a foreign object such as a splinter being trapped beneath the surface of the skin. In some cases, usually those related to acne, the painful growths can occur when sweat glands become clogged. While an exact cause for this condition cannot be determined, what we do know is that any break in the skin can lead to a disruption of the skin’s ability to provide defense against foreign agents such as bacteria. When this happens, it is possible for any number of infections to set in.
While anyone can develop a boil, individuals with certain diseases that compromise the immune system are particularly susceptible. Diseases such as kidney failure and diabetes can be particularly hard on the immune system and can leave affected individuals open to the development of secondary infection such as bacterial infection of the skin. There are also certain medications that can impair immune system function, including prednisone, and individuals who are taking these medications can also be more vulnerable to developing skin issues.
How do you treat a boil?
Many people have reported positive results with natural treatments such as JR Watkins First Aid Salve which can purportedly address boils, burns, bites and other skin problems.
Gentle heat, provided by a warm, soapy wash cloth held over the area for 30 minutes, three to four times a day, speeds up the healing process.
An antibiotic taken by mouth may also be used to eliminate the bacteria.
Putting medication on the boil will not cure it because the medicine does not penetrate into the infected skin, however a thin coat of antibiotic ointment (Polysporin) and a Band-Aid over the boil will keep the germs from spreading. If your boil does not improve after treatment, you might want to visit a dermatologist. Sometimes the bacteria are resistant to the first antibiotic.
Minor surgery where the boil is actually lanced may be needed to open the boil and to drain the pus. Although this may sound painful, it’s actually a quick process and will provide tremendous relief.