Stages of a boil and the best way to treat it

31st January, 2020 • 4 min read

A boil is a swollen, red lump under your skin that can become pus-filled over time. It is often sore and painful, but usually clears up on its own.

How long do boils last? Studies show that the average boil bursts after 2 to 3 days (although it can take up to a week or more), so it’s best to let the healing process happen naturally.

Knowing the stages of a boil is key to knowing when to care for a boil yourself and when to get it checked by a doctor.

What are the stages of a boil?

A boil often starts as a tender or itchy spot on your skin, surrounding a hair follicle. As the affected area starts to fill with pus, the boil grows and forms a firm, red lump under your skin.

Boils often look like large pimples, and most grow to be the size of a pea.

After several days or weeks, the boil will usually form a whitish head and then burst, allowing the pus to drain away. At this stage some boils may settle slowly without bursting.

Most small to medium-sized boils don’t cause permanent scarring, but larger boils may leave a scar.


American Academy of Dermatology

Do you need to see a doctor for a boil?

A boil should burst and heal on its own, without the need to see a doctor. However, you should seek medical help if:

  • your boil lasts for more than 2 weeks without bursting
  • you have a boil and flu-like symptoms, such as a fever, tiredness or feeling generally unwell
  • the redness around the boil starts to spread

A boil is usually caused by an infection, and the above symptoms can be a sign that the infection has spread to the surrounding skin


If you have a boil on your face, nose or spine, it’s best to see a doctor. A boil that forms in these places can lead to complications and a doctor may want to drain it before the infection has a chance to spread.

Why do I keep getting boils?

You should see a doctor if a boil keeps coming back. They may want to run some tests to work out why you keep getting a boil.

A doctor may also want to rule out some health problems that can increase your chance of getting a boil, such as

type-2 diabetes
or a weakened immune system.

What is a carbuncle?

A carbuncle is a group of boils that develop next to each other and join beneath the skin. Carbuncles are generally 3 to 10cm in size and often leak pus from multiple points.

They can be very painful and may cause serious complications if left untreated. If you think you have one, visit a doctor for carbuncle treatment, which may include drainage.

Treating a boil

You may want to pop a boil to get rid of it faster but don't be tempted as you may spread the infection. This can, in rare cases, lead to complications such as

. You can usually treat a boil yourself with simple remedies like a warm compress to ease symptoms and encourage healing. Get started by reading this article on
treating boils at home


Tidy D. Boils, Carbuncles and Furunculosis | Causes and Treatment [Internet]. 2020 [cited 22 January 2020]. Available


Boils and carbuncles - Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. 2020 [cited 22 January 2020]. Available


Boils, carbuncles, and staphylococcal carriage - NICE CKS [Internet]. 2020 [cited 22 January 2020]. Available


British Association of Dermatologists - Patient Information Leaflets (PILs) [Internet]. 2020 [cited 22 January 2020]. Available


Boils and carbuncles [Internet]. 2020 [cited 22 January 2020]. Available


Complications of boils and carbuncles - [Internet]. 2020 [cited 22 January 2020]. Available


Boils - Your.MD [Internet]. Your.MD. 2020 [cited 22 January 2020]. Available


Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.