Boils and carbuncles are common skin problems caused by bacteria living on the surface of the skin. These bacteria, usually, Staphylococcus aureus, are normally found on the skin but do not cause problems until there is a break in the skin or a hair follicle that allows their entry. People who have weakened immune systems or other medical conditions such as diabetes are more likely to develop boils and carbuncles, although these can affect any individual.
Boils are also called abscesses or furuncles. These begin as reddened, tender bumps on the skin, which later becomes filled with pus, a whitish substance that consists of bacteria, white blood cells and dead cells. A cluster of boils connected to each other under the skin makes up a carbuncle, which usually occurs on hairy parts of the body such as the nape, the armpits or the groin.
Home Treatments for Boils and Carbuncles
The first rule in treating a boil or a carbuncle is to avoid squeezing or pricking them to remove the pus. This can cause the infection to spread. Pus will drain on its own with time, which is followed by healing.
To relieve pain and inflammation, apply a warm compress using a moist washcloth on the boil/carbuncle for about 20 minutes. Do this several times during the day. This also promotes pus drainage and healing. You may also apply a heating pad or a hot water bottle over a clean dry cloth on the affected area. Remember to clean and dry the washcloths after use.
You may wash the boil/carbuncle with soap and water, and then cover it with a sterile gauze bandage. This will also promote drainage of pus and prevent spread of infection.
You may take over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve pain and inflammation.
It is also advisable to see a doctor if you have diabetes or other medical conditions, which affect your immune system. Carbuncles that are very large and painful and those that develop on the face, near the eyes or on the spine must be evaluated by a doctor.
Medical Treatments for Boils and Carbuncles
Large boils and carbuncles which do not drain or heal within a few days may be cut and drained by a doctor under sterile conditions. Antibiotics are not necessary when the pus is completely drained. However, a doctor may prescribe them when the surrounding tissues are infected (a condition called cellulitis) or if the infection has spread to other parts of your body. People with weak immune systems or have developed resistance to some antibiotics (MRSA) may also need antibiotic treatment.
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