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Boils: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Boils: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

by Azka Munir · December 14, 2020

Boils are painful bumps filled with pus.

It forms beneath the skin due to a bacterial infection in the hair follicle or oil gland.

Boils are red and are then filled with pus becoming lumpy and painful till they burst and drain.

A group of boils becomes a severe carbuncle infection.


Types of Boils

There are 3 types of boils.

A boil is also termed as a skin abscess.

Cystic acne, Hidradenitis suppurativa and Pilonidal cyst are all skin abscesses.

boils types

Cystic Acne

It develops on the skin when an oil duct becomes infected.

It affects deeper tissues than the normal acne which is not that infectious.

Cystic acne will mostly develop in teenagers on the face.

Hidradenitis Suppurativa

This condition occurs due to an inflammation of sweat glands, especially in the armpit area. ‘They can sometimes also develop around the groin.

This infection may not be easily cured by antibiotics and can even involve surgery to eliminate the infected sweat glands.

Pilonidal Cyst

They form on the buttocks usually after a long time of sitting for instance on a trip.

They start in a small area from which hair grows, but with time increase to become a firm cyst that is very uncomfortable and painful.

Is a Boil Different From a Pimple?

Yes, they are different and a boil can be more severe and painful. However, they essentially have more similarities.

A pimple usually appears in people who suffer from acne.

Like a boil, a pimple can be sometimes filled with pus.

However, a pimple will also have oily secretions and dead skin cells.

Pimples also start as a result of an inflammation in hair follicles.

Though boils are redder and more painful indicating a proper infection.

Learn more about Scabies here. 


Symptoms of Boils

Boils usually appear on the face, neck, armpits and buttocks.

Though they can appear anywhere on the skin.

A boil that occurs on the eyelid is known as a sty.

It will start as a small red bump that increases in size up to 2 inches as it fills with pus.

boils on skin

Later, it becomes softer, and more painful as pus fills it.

The area around the boil also becomes swollen and red.

Moreover, in a few days, a yellow-white tip will form on the boil.

This happens when it is near to burst and the pus drains out.

You may develop a fever if a carbuncle- ie.e a cluster of boils appears.

Carbuncle infection is more serious and can even leave a scar.

You Should See a Doctor If:

  • more bumps form around the infected boil area
  • lymph nodes swell
  • it is on your eye and affects vision
  • the skin surrounding the boil is becoming red, swollen and warm
  • the boil does not rupture and drain
  • it does not heal beyond 2 weeks
  • you have a cardiac disease, an immunity problem or diabetes then this infection needs to be tested
  • you have severe pain, fever and chills
  • it occurs again at the same place


Causes of Boils

A boil develops due to an infection by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. It is present on the skin and enters the skin through cuts.

From there it could also reach the hair follicle and form a bump. This is how ingrown hair can cause boils.

boils causes

Risk Factors

Anyone can develop a boil but certain factors make a few more likely to skin infections.

These include:

Diabetes-Being diabetic makes it tougher to fight infections and other diseases on your own. Therefore, you are more susceptible to developing a boil.

Weak immune system- Your chances of developing a boil increases if you have a compromised immune system. As well as if you have undergone chemotherapy and use medications to treat your immune system.

Close contact with someone who has a boil-If you are in close contact with a person having a boil, chances are you may get one soon.

Skin conditions-Skin conditions like eczema and acne destroy the skin’s protective barrier. Therefore the bacteria can invade with more ease causing a boil to develop.

Poor nutrition and hygiene conditions can also increase your chances of getting an infection because you would not be able to fight it on your own. Moreover being exposed to skin-irritating chemicals can cause boils as well.

Hence skin care is important in preventing boils.

Complications are rare but can occur.

Sometimes a boil may enter your bloodstream leading to blood poisoning and (sepsis).

It can directly infect your heart and bone.


Diagnosis and Treatment

A physical exam can identify a boil.

Your doctor can simply identify it by examining it and if required a pus sample can be sent for lab testing.

This happens when the infection has spread deeper than this pus culture can be used to recognize the type of bacteria behind it to treat it effectively with antibiotics.

Other body parts may also be examined to check for more boils.



Small boils can be treated at home with just proper care.

Boils should not be popped, they rupture on their time and if they do not soon, then you should go for an examination.

As Soon as You Get a Boil You Can Try Some Home Remedies

Firstly use some heat application with warm water. You can dip a cloth in warm water to form warm compresses and apply it to the area that has the boil.

You can use these warm water compresses and apply them for 20 minutes about 3 to 4 times a day.

This helps increase blood circulation and you fight the infection better as antibodies and white blood cells come to the infected area.

If a boil appears as a result of shaving and ingrown hair then it is best to avoid shaving for a while as it can form recurrent boils.

The hot soak also helps boils to drain on their own. Once they are soft the pus comes out.

Wash the area with antibacterial soap and rubbing alcohol.

When the pus fully comes out apply an antibacterial ointment and apply a bandage to that area. Repeat this process 2 to 3 times a day.

After you have cleaned the pus, wash your hands properly and even wash the clothes and towels that may have come in contact with the boil to prevent yourself and others from catching the infection again.

However, this works for small boils. Large boils may require medical attention to drain the pockets of pus.

Using tea tree oil is also helpful because it has antibacterial and antiseptic properties and helps to treat the bacterial infection causing boil.

However, make sure to avoid applying directly on the skin as it may cause a burning effect.

Medical Treatment

Your doctor may lance a large boil and to do so they will make an incision.

Deep infections can be drained by packing them with sterile gauze.

It soaks up the pus which is then removed.

Antibiotics are given to counteract the infection.

Clindamycin and Cephalexin have been used to treat boils.

Oral antibiotics can be used to treat cystic acne and hidradenitis suppurativa. Isotretinoin is considered most effective against cystic acne.

Surgery will be required for pilonidal cysts to remove the outer layer for pus to be drained properly.

Sometimes hidradenitis suppurativa may also require plastic surgery to completely get rid of the extensive abscess.

However, antibiotics may not necessarily be effective as they sometimes may not penetrate the wall of the abscess, and to completely get rid of the boil, surgical drainage will still be required.

Therefore, go along with what your doctor suggests and do not pop the boil yourself as it could increase infection.

Moreover, neem oil has antiseptic, antibacterial, and antimicrobial properties that can also help to treat skin infections.

For this, you can apply this oil directly to the boil for 3 to 4 times a day, and make sure that you wash your hands before and after application.



You can reduce your chances of developing a boil but they are not totally preventable.

If someone close to you gets it, then try to avoid having any physical contact with them.

The bacteria can be contagious so you can get the infection too especially if you touched the secretions.

prevention face washing

You need to have good hand hygiene and regularly washing your hands with antibacterial soap can help keep the bacteria at bay reducing chances of getting this condition or ringworm.

Doctors may also suggest cleansers like pHisoderm to lessen the bacteria present on the skin.

The bacteria usually enters from wounds and cuts also occasionally from insect bites. Therefore, try to keep all cuts covered. Apply sterile bandages on these wounds till they properly heal.

You can avoid sharing any of your personal items and clothes. These infections called staph infections can spread from person to person by objects and linen.

If you already have a cut or abrasion then wash your linen, clothes and towels with warm water and bleach and dry them with strong heat.

Eat well and maintain good personal hygiene. Eating unhealthy means you have a lack of good nutrition which can eventually make you weak.

People with weak immune systems are more susceptible to developing boils. Therefore, if you take good care of yourself and try to eat and live healthily and cleanly then you have fewer chances of getting boils.

The inflammation of hair follicles on arms and thighs can be lessened by using a loofah brush.

You will have to scrub and exfoliate with an abrasive loofah brush to get rid of buildup near the hair follicles and break down the oil plugs in that area.

Regularly exfoliation reduces the chances of ingrown hair, hence also less boils.

You can prevent pilonidal cysts’ growth by not applying direct pressure in that area and only using warm water soaks to get rid of hair follicle inflammation.


A boil is a red, pus-filled bump that often forms under your skin and can be painful and grow larger if you do not drain them. They can also grow to a size of a baseball and are called skin abscesses.

The skin that surrounds them is often red and painful, however, do not pick or squeeze them as it can cause an infection.

If you have a boil, treat it immediately with warm water compresses and do that continuously for 10 days. However, if the boil does not rupture on its own by 14 days, consult your doctor. It is best to eliminate it as soon as possible so that it does not spread rapidly.

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