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Last updated April 4, 2017, originally published November 2, 2013

By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of Doctors and
Registered Nurses and other members of our Editorial Board.]

A lumpy, bumpy, painful eruption on your skin is highly likely to
be a boil. Mention the word "boils" and you have a distasteful
image of pus-filled spots on the body, and the idea that boils
are brought on by poor hygiene or bad health.

Boils are certainly unsightly but they are actually caused by a
germ called "staphylococcal bacteria".
Anyone can get a boil
and boils are common, although they occur more frequently in
people who have a weakened immune system through diseases
diabetes or kidney failure. It’s true that boils can be caused
by poor hygiene – you are more likely to get a boil if germs are
allowed to build up on the skin.

Boils commonly appear in the sweaty areas of the body – the
armpits, buttocks, and groin – as well as the face and neck, the
ears and nose, and the shoulders. If your thighs rub together,
you're more likely to get boils there. (Read more about
you may get boils on your vulva and how to get rid of them.)

If you have a boil on your eyelid it is called a
sty (also spelled
"stye"). Be careful if you see several boils developing in the
same area – this is called a "carbuncle" and it is a more serious
type of infection.

Men are more likely to suffer from carbuncles, according to
Medical Disability Advisor.

Each carbuncle contains inflamed hair follicles ("furuncles").  
The deeply inflamed hair follicle leads to an abscess with
accompanying pus and dead tissue.  

Must you suffer with a boil until it clears up? Is there anything
you can do to treat a boil? And are boils dangerous – do you
need to visit the doctor or emergency room?

What Causes Boils?

While boils are caused by the staphylococcal bacteria you are
more likely to be infected if you have immune system problems,
diabetes, poor nutrition, poor hygiene, or if you have been
exposed to harsh chemicals that irritate the skin. If you have a
break in the skin like a cut or a scrape, microbes can more
easily penetrate the skin and cause infection in the shape of a
boil. Sometimes a boil arrives after an ingrown hair causes
irritation or following acne when the sweat glands become

Signs and Symptoms of Boils

First your skin reddens at the site of the infection, and then a
small and tender lump, which you may at first think is a pimple,
begins to grow. After about a week you see the bump turn
white as pus builds up beneath the skin.

Boils are irritating, unattractive and can be painful – if you
suffer from boils you won’t think this is a minor skin condition.

When to Seek Medical Care

Most boils, while horrible to look at, are not the sign of
anything serious. You should be able to get rid of the boil after
a few weeks of treatment.

However, if you have a fever,
swollen lymph glands, severe
pain, or severely red skin around the site of the boil or if your
boils reappear often, then you could have a more serious
infection and you need to see a doctor. Get your boil checked
out if it does not drain, or if more boils appear.

Occasionally you may confuse a boil with the MRSA infection.
MRSA infections look like ordinary boils – red, swollen lumps
filled with pus. If the skin doesn’t improve after taking
antibiotics, your doctor may suspect MRSA and carry out
further tests. If your skin heals after following basic self care
measures then it is highly unlikely you have MRSA.

Most boils are nothing more than a simple infection and
respond well to home treatment, although you should see your
doctor if you are at all concerned. We looked at the scientific
research into boils, carbuncles and sties (also called styes) to
discover the best ways to treat boils.

Warm Compresses for Treating a Boil

Number one on the list of self-treatments for boils is the warm
compress. Your boil needs to open and to drain in order for it
to effectively heal – this means the pus needs to come out.

But prodding and poking the boil can cause further infection.
Use warm, moist compresses on the boil several times a day to
aid the opening and draining process.

After about two weeks you will see the boil open and the pus
start to drain out. Continue using warm, wet compresses on
the area after the boil opens in order to help it heal completely.
Warm compresses have the additional benefit of easing pain
associated with a boil. Make a warm compress by soaking a
clean cloth in warm water and squeezing out the water until it
is damp.

If you find that you are prone to boils, try using clean, warm
cloths on that area periodically to keep the hair follicles from
becoming susceptible to boils.

Aftercare for a Boil

Once the boil has “popped” and started draining, wash it with
an antibacterial soap, dry the area and cover with a bandage.

Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly and use antibacterial
gels to prevent spreading the infection to other areas of your
body or to other people.

Use clean cloths for each compress and don’t share these
towels with anyone else – wash them immediately after you use
them. Treatment of boils was most effective when the affected
person and their family practiced good hygiene by regularly
washing their hands and avoiding contact with the
contaminated skin, according to a 2010 study from Cleveland
Clinic Foundation.

Treat Recurrent Boils with Antibacterial Soaps and Ointments

Many people suffer from recurrent boils all over the body. In
these cases, you usually need to eliminate the staph bacteria
throughout the body. Using an antiseptic soap all over the
body, applying an antibiotic ointment, or taking oral antibiotics
can all help reduce or get rid of the bacteria on the skin.

However, using antibiotics is controversial and does not always
work effectively. According to a 1988 study from the National
Center for Hospital Hygiene, Statens Seruminstitut,
Copenhagen, Denmark recurrent boils were cured with a
combination of antibacterial gel and body wash, as well as
improved cleaning and hygiene.

Use Noni to Treat Boils?

Noni, or Indian mulberry, is a small shrub native to the Asia
Pacific region that is reputed to be an effective wound healer.
Indigenous people used the fruit of the noni plant for treating
skin inflammation and infection and the leaves for topical
wound healing. According to “Hawaiian noni (Morinda
citrifolia)” by R Elkins (Pleasant Grove, UT: Woodland
Publishing; 1997) noni is said to be effective for treating boils
along with many other health conditions but there is no real
evidence for these claims.

Tea Tree Oil as an Effective Boil Treatment

Use a dab of tea tree oil on an infection and benefit from a
natural way to kill bacteria – tea tree oil is an effective
antiseptic, according to studies including 2000 research from St
Thomas' Hospital, London, UK.

In fact, tea tree oil may be as effective as standard antiseptics
for combating strains of staph bacteria that cause boils,
according to a 2005 study from Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup,
Kent, UK and a 2000 study from the University of Newcastle,
Callaghan, NSW, Australia. Use tea tree oil on the boil before it
opens – go sparingly as tea tree oil can cause skin irritation.

Strengthen Your Immune System to Prevent Boils

We've written before about the critical importance to your
health of
keeping your immune system strong.

Evidence states that you are more likely to suffer from boils if
you have a compromised immune system – if you are run-
down, or you suffer from conditions that limit the effectiveness
of the immune system. Making sure you eat a healthy, balanced
diet is the best way to strengthen your immune system
although taking multivitamin supplements can provide
insurance against nutritional deficiencies that affect your
immune system, according to research including a 1994 report
from the Institut Scientifique et Technique de la Nutrition et de
l'Alimentation, Paris, France.

Prevent Anemia to Prevent Boils

Another condition that makes it more likely you will suffer from
boils is

Boils are sometimes related to anemia so it is important to keep
your iron levels up. Anemia is often caused by iron deficiency.

Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the
world, according to “Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease”
by Shils ME, Olson JA, Shike M, eds. (9th ed. Baltimore, MD:
Williams & Wilkins; 1999). So, get your iron levels checked and  
ask your doctor if your boils could be related to a deficiency of
iron and make sure your diet contains plenty of this essential

Add liver and eggs to your diet to boost your iron levels.


Thyme Helps to Inhibit Boils

Rinsing with a cooled down tea of thyme and distilled water
once weekly can help to inhibit skin infections in general.
Thyme penetrates the cell membrane of bacteria and fungus,
helping to accelerate cell death and improve the effectiveness
of prescription medications against these infections.]

Why Do I Keep Getting Boils on My Vulva?- Causes and Cures

Why Won't My Wound Heal?-Causes and Remedies

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