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Skin Problems

Boils

Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

A boil is a red, swollen, painful bump under the skin, similar to an overgrown pimple. Boils are often caused by infected hair follicles. Bacteria from the infection form an abscess or pocket of pus. The abscess can become larger than a ping-pong ball and may be extremely painful.

Boils occur most often in areas where there is hair and chafing. The face, neck, armpits, breasts, groin, and buttocks are common sites.

Prevention

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  • Wash boil-prone areas with soapy water. An antibacterial soap may help. Dry thoroughly.

  • Avoid clothing that is too tight.

Home Treatment

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  • Do not squeeze, scratch, drain, or lance the boil. Squeezing can push the infection deeper into the skin. Scratching can spread the bacteria to other parts of the body.

  • Wash yourself well with an antibacterial soap to keep the infection from spreading.

  • Apply hot, wet washcloths to the boil for 20 to 30 minutes, 3 to 4 times a day. Do this as soon as you notice a boil. The heat and moisture can help bring the boil to a head, but it may take 5 to 7 days. Applying a hot water bottle or a waterproof heating pad over a damp towel may also help.

  • Continue using warm compresses for 3 days after the boil opens. Apply a bandage to keep draining material from spreading, and change the bandage daily.

When to Call a Health Professional

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If needed, your doctor can drain the boil and treat the infection. Call the doctor:

  • If the boil is on your face, near your spine, or in the anal area.

  • If signs of worsening infection develop:

    • Increased pain, swelling, heat, redness, or tenderness.

    • Red streaks extending from the boil.

    • Continued discharge of pus.

    • Fever of 37.8°C (100°F) or higher with no other cause.

  • If any other lumps, particularly painful ones, develop near the infected area.

  • If the pain limits your normal activities.

  • If you have diabetes.

  • If the boil is as large as a ping-pong ball.

  • If the boil has not improved after 5 to 7 days of Home Treatment.

  • If many boils develop over several months.

 

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