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What Are the Treatments for Boils on Skin?

What Are the Treatments for Boils on Skin? What Are the Treatments for Boils on Skin?

A boil is an infection of a hair follicle and the immediately adjacent skin, usually caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. Furuncle describes an infection of a single hair follicle. Carbuncle refers to a larger area of infection, involving several hair follicles. Boils most commonly occur on the thighs, buttocks, neck, face and in the armpits, although they may occur on any skin surface with hair. Treatment depends on the size and number of boils, and health factors that may increase the risk for complications.

Warm Compresses

Dr. Michael Lehrer explains in a Medline Plus entry that furuncles contain a collection of bacteria, pus and cellular debris, which usually needs to drain before the lesion can heal. Warm, moist heat applied several times daily for approximately 20 minutes helps encourage boil drainage. Dr. Lehrer cautions that furuncles should not be squeezed, as this may cause spread of the infection within the skin.

Cleaning and Bandaging

The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics recommends washing boils twice daily with an antibacterial soap. Hand washing after touching the boil prevents spread of the infection. A loose bandage covering the lesion between cleanings protects the area. Towels, washcloths, compress cloths, sheets and clothing that contact the boil require laundering in hot water to kill any bacteria that may be present. Similarly, showers are preferable to baths, as bathwater may provide a route for bacterial spread.

Incision and Drainage

Some boils may require lancing by a health care professional. This involves cutting a small hole in the boil with a sterile instrument to promote drainage and healing. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center cautions against attempting to lance a boil at home, which may cause worsening of the infection. Doctors often decide to drain furuncles and carbuncles that prove exceptionally large, continue to grow or persist for more than two weeks. Incision and drainage of boils that occur in people with a weakened immune system or on immunosuppressant medication can help prevent complications.

Post-Drainage Care

Once a boil drains, the affected area and surrounding skin require protection. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center encourages continued cleaning of the area two to three times daily with antibacterial soap until the lesion heals. Application of antibiotic ointment and a protective bandage helps prevent reinfection or a secondary infection.

Oral Antibiotics

Oral antibiotics often prove necessary to resolve carbuncles, notes the Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. Other indications for oral antibiotics include continued infection after drainage, spreading of the infection to surrounding skin, and prevention of bloodstream infection among people with a weakened immune system.

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