A boil which is also known as a furuncle, is a skin abscess or lesion with a painful pus-filled bump that arises from an inflamed or infected hair follicle or a surrounding tissue. At first, the skin turns red in the area of the infection, and a tender lump develops under the skin. This typically starts off small, about half an inch then gradually enlarges as it fills with pus to about two inches. This pus is a collection of dead bacteria cells, white blood cells and dead skin cells or proteins that appear and build up in the boil(s). The pain gradually increases from mild to severe, as the size of the bump increases.
A hair follicle comprises of a hair, the root of the hair, a sebaceous gland and a small muscle that can pull the hair up, making it stand on end. The inflammation of a hair follicle is mostly caused by the bacterium known as “Staphylococcus aureus”. When a group of hair follicles become infected due to a deeper advancement of infection within the skin, it forms a cluster of boils with multiple pus heads that are connected to each other. These cluster of boils is known as carbuncle.
Boils can develop anywhere on the skin but are most likely to occur on areas that are hair-bearing, prone to sweat and likely to experience friction. These areas include the face, neck (including the back of the neck), the armpits, the groin, genital area, shoulders, the back, the buttocks and thighs.
When a boil occurs on the eyelid, it is known as a Sty. It should be noted however, that there is another condition that gives rise to a lump on the eyelid. This condition is known as chalazion, it is caused by a blocked oil gland and it is not an infection thus a sty should not be confused with a chalazion.
Symptoms of Boils
The symptoms of boil(s) include;
- A red swollen spot on skin.
- Pain on the affected area.
- Development of a yellow-white tip, where it eventually ruptures from and allows the pus to pour out.
- Occurrence of more boils: Carbuncle which is about 4 inches in size and occurs from a deeper infection, can occur or begin from a single boil (furuncle). Carbuncle bears similar symptoms to furuncle but carbuncle can also give rise to other conditions such as;
· Body weakness
· Ill health.
· Swollen lymph nodes
Causes of Boils
Germs such as Staphylococcus bacteria which is also known as staphylococcus aureus usually live on the surface of the skin or inside the nose without any problem but when a scrape, cut, splinter or an insect bite breaks the skin, it makes it possible for the bacteria to gain access to a hair follicle and then trigger an infection which results in a boil. Also, some boils can be caused by an ingrown hair.
There is a particular type of staph that causes an infection that results in a boil, which commonly occurs in the perineal body, surrounding structures and buttocks, and it is usually recurrent. This staph is known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). This MRSA infection is resistant to many antibiotics.
Although anyone including healthy people can develop boils, the following factors can increase your risk:
· Related or other skin conditions
· Close contact with a person who has a staph infection
· Weak immune system
· Poor nutrition
· Exposure to harsh chemicals that irritate the skin
· Poor hygiene or lifestyle: poor body or health care are amongst the other factors that poses a high risk.
· Pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and anaemia make it harder for the body to fight infection including bacterial infections and also wound healing can be very slow due to these conditions, and thus a person can become susceptible to skin infections. Other pre-existing conditions such as iron deficiency and conjunctivitis can make a person susceptible to skin infections.
When to Seek Medical Care
Boils usually do not need immediate emergency attention. However, if you are in poor health and you develop high fever and chills along with the infection, a trip to the hospital is needed. Also, it is required to seek medical care when;
- You have swollen lymph nodes.
- The skin around the boil turns red or red streaks appear.
- The boil becomes larger and/or pain becomes severe.
- The boil does not drain or does not heal after a week of home care.
- The boil is located on your face, near your spine, or near your anus.
- A second boil appears.
- You have a heart murmur, diabetes, any problem with your immune system, or use immune suppressing drugs (for example, corticosteroids or chemotherapy) and you develop a boil.
Some people suffer from recurring boils. These might be an indication that these people are carriers of Staphylococcus aureus (staph bacteria). These means that the staph bacteria are living on their skin or inside their nose. People with weak immune system do suffer from recurring boils or have boils occur in several different places at the same time. Many times, recurring boils occur in areas where the skin folds. These areas include under the breasts, under the stomach, in the underarms, and in the groin area. Recurrent boils often lead to scarring.
Certain complications can occur although these are very rare. If a lot of the bacteria enters the blood stream at once and spread rapidly throughout the whole body, the infection due to spreading is commonly known as sepsis (blood poisoning). However, this should not be confused with lymphangitis, in which a red streak flows away from a boil that is squeezed or scratched open which may result in bacteria spread in the body along the blood or lymph vessels and which also might leave the lymph nodes in the affected area, inflamed and hurt.
Sepsis also can lead to deep infections within the body such as your heart (endocarditis) and bone (osteomyelitis).
There is also a tendency though rare, that if boils occur on the face, particularly around the nose and upper lip area, the bacteria might get into the brain, where they could lead to a brain abscess (called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, or CVST).
Usually, doctors suggest that diagnosis begin with a physical examination which usually in this case is simply by looking at your skin. A pus sample may also be taken for lab analysis or testing. This Could possibly be useful if you have an infection that has not responded to standard treatment or you have recurring infections. In addition, lab testing or analysis can be used where the doctor considers prescribing antibiotics to treat the infection. This helps the doctor determine the type of antibiotics that could work best as many varieties of bacteria that causes boils have become resistant to certain types of antibiotics.
Small boils can be treated at home (see lifestyle and home remedies below).
If the fluid inside a boil or carbuncle doesn’t drain itself, the doctor may decide to drain it by making an incision in it with a sterile instrument. Never make any attempt to squeeze, prick or cut the boil open on your own. Deep infections that can’t be fully drained may be packed with sterile gauze so it continues to drain in order to soak up and remove additional pus.
Through this medium, the doctor may decide to collect a sample of the pus to enable a lab testing to determine the type of antibiotics to prescribe especially in the case of severe or recurrent infections. This can help to eliminate or reduce the presence of staph bacteria in the body.
Lifestyle and Home Remedies
For small boils, these measures may help the infection heal more quickly and prevent it from spreading:
· Warm compresses. Apply a warm washcloth to the affected area, holding the washcloth in place, add some pressure but ensure the boil is not punctured. Do this several times a day, for about 10 minutes each time. This helps the boil rupture and drain more quickly.
· Caring for a ruptured boil with bandage. it is necessary to cover a boil once it ruptures naturally with a fresh, clean bandage or gauze. This will keep the infection from spreading to other places.
· Never squeeze or lance a boil yourself. This can result in a spread of the infection or perhaps cause a secondary infection of the boil.
· Prevent contamination. Wash your hands thoroughly after treating a boil. Also, launder clothing, towels or compresses that have touched the infected area, especially if you have recurrent infections.
The Prognosis (Outlook)
The majority of boils in healthy people resolve on their own with home care without forming a scar. The prognosis is also excellent for boils that are treated in the health care setting by opening or lancing. Antibiotics may or may not be required after a boil has been lanced by a health care professional.
It is not always possible to avoid getting boils. Bacteria are everywhere in our environment and on people’s skin. However, the following measures can help reduce risk.
· Eat healthy and exercise regularly to boost immune system and also reduce weight if you are overweight.
· Wash skin regularly with the use of a mild anti-bacterial soap.
· Avoid sharing personal items such as flannels or towels, sheets, razors, etc.
· Wash your hands regularly with alcohol-based hand sanitizer or antiseptic hand rubs
· If you are iron deficient, a course of iron tablets may help reduce infection.
· 1000 mg of vitamin C each day has also been advocated to improve deficient neutrophils function.
· Carefully clean cuts, scrapes, and other wounds.
· Keep wounds, cuts or grazes covered with sterile, dry bandage until they heal.
· Wash towels, sheets, and anything else in contact with an infected area in very hot water, using detergent and possibly with added bleach.
· Carefully disposed used wound dressings.
Are Boils Contagious?
The bacteria present inside the boil can be contagious to others, especially if there is direct skin-to-skin contact with the secretions from an open boil.
....making effort to "STAY WELL"