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Common boil questions

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What causes boils?

Boils are generally caused by a type of bacteria known as staphylococcus bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus). Staphylococcus bacteria usually live harmlessly on the surface of the skin or in the lining of the nose.

However, if they get inside the skin through a cut or graze, they can infect a hair follicle (a small cavity in the skin from which a hair grows) and cause boils.

Are boils contagious?

Boils are contagious. They can spread from one part of the body to another, or to another person.

Will a boil go away on its own?

For a boil to heal and go away, it needs to open so that the pus inside can drain out. Sometimes boils open and drain on their own. However, most boils need help to open.

Once a boil opens and drains, it should heal on its own. However, it can take a few weeks for a boil to heal completely.

What is the best home remedy for boils?

One of the best home remedies for boils is applying a warm face cloth to the boil for 10 minutes three or four times a day. This home remedy can speed up the healing process because the heat encourages blood and infection-fighting white cells to circulate in the boil.

When the boil bursts, cover it with a sterile dressing to prevent the spread of infection. Wash your hands thoroughly using hot water and soap to help prevent you from spreading bacteria to other parts of your body or other people.

Non-prescription painkillers, such as paracetamol, can help relieve any pain caused by the boil.

What antibiotics treat boils?

A penicillin-based antibiotic called flucloxacillin is usually used to treat boils. People unable to take penicillin can be given alternative antibiotics, such as erythromycin and clarithromycin.

Antibiotics are usually recommended when a boil:

  • becomes a carbuncle (a carbuncle is a collection of boils that develop in a group of hair follicles under the skin)
  • causes a high temperature
  • causes a secondary infection, such as cellulitis
  • is on your face (facial boils have a higher risk of causing complications)
  • causes you severe pain and discomfort

Why do I keep getting boils?

In some cases, boils can recur. If you keep getting boils, it is likely that you are a carrier of the boil-causing bacteria, staphylococcus bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus). People with recurrent boils may need treatment to kill the bacteria.

Do boils itch?

Boils may sometimes itch before healing.

What’s the difference between a boil and a cyst?

A boil is a red, painful skin lump that develops at the site of an infected hair follicle. A skin cyst is a fluid-filled lump that lies just underneath the skin. The main difference between a boil and a cyst is that cysts are not infectious while boils are.

Are furuncles and carbuncles the same?

Furuncles and carbuncles are not the same. A single boil is a furuncle. A carbuncle is a collection of boils that develop in a group of hair follicles under the skin. Both furuncles and carbuncles are caused by the same type of bacteria.

Can a carbuncle kill you?

Most boils and carbuncles get better without causing complications. However, some people can develop a secondary infection. In some cases, this infection can spread deeper into the skin and body, causing serious infections, such as cellulitis and blood poisoning (sepsis).

Sepsis can lead to death if it is not treated.

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