Also known as a furuncle, boils may form as a result of a cut or a break in the skin, or they may occur without any obvious predisposing cause. The Staphylococcus aureus bacterium is the most comon cause of boils. Boils typically occur around a hair follicle and appear as a red, tender area with a painful, pus-filled center (sometimes also called an abscess) that can open spontaneously or can be drained by surgical incision. Anyone can get a boil. Once established, boils grow quickly and are usually painful until they drain. However, if left alone a boil will naturally come to a head and open up, allowing the pus to drain and the skin to heal. People with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to boils than the general population.
Boils tend to occur on parts of the body that have hair or sweat glands and that are also exposed to friction, typically on the face, neck, armpits or buttocks. A "carbuncle" is a deep seated cluster of boils that most often occur on the back of the neck, shoulders or thighs.
Some other skin conditions that may mimic a furuncle or a carbuncle include:
Pilonidal Cyst. An abnormal pocket in the skin containing hair and other skin debris, pilonidal cysts typically occur in the middle of the lower back at the tip of the tailbone, just above the cleft between the buttocks. If infected, pilonidal cysts almost always require medical treatment.
Hidradenitis Suppurativa. These are multiple abscesses of unknown cause that form from blocked sweat glands, most commonly in the armpits or groin areas.
Cystic Acne. This type of acne is situated more deeply in the skin than the more superficial forms of acne, and typically occurs in teenagers.
Some boils respond well to home remedies. To promote healing, apply heat to the boil in the form of hot soaks or compresses. Keep the area clean, apply over-the-counter antibiotics and then cover with gauze. Do not puncture or squeeze the boil because it can lead to further infection. If the boil does not drain or go away within two weeks, or if it is accompanied by a fever or is very painful, contact your dermatologist. The doctor will clean, lance and drain the boil and possibly prescribe an antibiotic if needed to alleviate the infection.