Boils: When a Bump Is Something More
Whether you’ve had a boil in the past or you’re facing your first, it’s never a bad idea to brush up on what exactly they are. Understanding how they’re formed and treated might prevent future boils, or at least ease your mind when the next one shows up.
A boil is a type of skin infection that forms in hair follicles or sebaceous glands. Boils result when a small cut or wound is exposed to the staphylococcal bacteria. Sometimes boils can form on unbroken skin if the bacteria travels down the hair into the follicle itself. Skin around the boil becomes red and the boil itself will become a raised, tender bump. As an infection occurs, pus soon forms beneath the skin, giving boils a white or yellow color within a few days.
Boils can form anywhere on the skin, but are most common on the face, neck, shoulders, buttocks, and armpits. When a boil forms on the eyelid, it’s called a sty although the symptoms are the same. Boils are often sensitive and tender, and they can sometimes be fairly painful. Sometimes, extreme pain, fever, and redness can be a sign of a more serious infection.
Most of the time, an infection from a boil will resolve when it drains and is allowed to heal on its own. Boils will usually drain if punctured, and cleaning the skin at the area is important. While most boils’ infections aren’t severe, more bacteria can only compound the infection and cause complications. This is why manually draining a boil yourself is not recommended. Piercing it with an object or your fingers can spread bacteria and cause a worse infection. If it does drain, keep the area clean.
There are some things you can do at home to relieve the symptoms of a boil or sty. A warm compress applied to the boil can alleviate discomfort and reduce inflammation. Soak a clean washcloth in warm water and drain excess water before applying to your skin. Repeating this process a few times daily should make the boil drain on its own. Once a boil is draining, clean and cover the skin with a bandage.
When to Call Your Dermatologist
Boils sometimes can form in groups called carbuncles. Carbuncles often need professional treatment because they are much larger and can go deeper into the skin. The pus from a carbuncle can spread infection, and occasionally carbuncles form as a result of a much more serious bacteria called MRSA. Carbuncles often form in hairy areas on your body, and if you notice them forming, it’s important to get treatment quickly.
With regular boils, you shouldn’t worry too much, but it’s important to pay attention to your symptoms. If your boil won’t drain on its own after a week or two, you should reach out to a doctor. The same applies for if your boil accompanies a fever or if the skin around the boil becomes red, inflamed and painful. As with many mild skin conditions, boils can often go away on their own. But don’t take your last boil’s behavior as an indication for how a boil will act. Since they involve bacteria, they’re fairly unpredictable unless very well maintained and cleaned.
When in doubt, reach out to a trustworthy dermatologist. If you want to heal fast, call your Southeast Dermatology Specialists today for the treatment you deserve.