Boils (also known as furuncles, carbuncles, and styes) are relatively
common and usually pose no serious health threat. They can erupt around
an inflamed hair follicle, usually on the face, scalp, underarm, thigh,
or buttocks. Often, small boils arise and subside within a week or
two. Deeper boils or boil sites with multiple pus-filled, pimple-like
heads are probably caused by a bacterial infection (usually Staphylococcus
aureus) and can recur in cycles or erratically for years after the
Most boils respond well to a regimen of very warm compresses
and careful cleansing procedures. Sometimes, however, boils fail
to drain properly, or they become very painful and inflamed. In
such cases, a visit to the doctor to have the area drained usually
is necessary, and a 10-to-14-day cycle of oral antibiotics may
- Red, painful, pus-filled abscess beneath the skin's surface
- Minor swelling around boil area
- Appearance of a pimple-like head or multiple heads in center
of swollen area(s) that sometimes erupt and drain fluid, pus,
Consult Your Doctor If:
- You have a boil on or near your lip, nose, armpit, groin,
breast, or between buttocks.
- A boil is very large or causes significant inflammation of
- You have boils accompanied by a fever.
Home Care Ideas:
- At the first sign of a boil, apply very warm, wet compresses
to the area for 20 minutes, three to four times a day for a
week or until the boil comes to a head and breaks.
- Sit in a hot bath for 20 minutes daily until boil erupts.
- After a boil erupts, clean the area and apply an antibacterial
cream (e.g., Neosporin or Bacitracin).
- Cover erupted or draining boils with a bandage to keep fluid
from spreading infection. Change bandage three or four times
- Do not pinch or squeeze boils that are not fully drained.
You may cause a deeper infection.
- Keep boil area or boil-prone areas very clean; wipe skin with
a clean cotton ball soaked in alcohol or Betadine antiseptic
solution to keep infection from spreading.
- For boils on the face: Before shaving, wash your face with
an antibacterial soap. After shaving, apply alcohol to affected
areas. Immerse razors in alcohol between shaves.
- When you have a boil, wash towels, washcloths, bed linens,
and clothing daily in hot water.