Boil Treatment

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Boil

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A boil is an infection of a hair follicle. It occurs when bacteria (usually staphylococcus) multiply under the surface of the skin in a hair follicle. A boil looks like a small red lump on the skin that is tender. The surrounding skin may be swollen and inflamed. Pus fills the centre of the boil.

Small boils are common and will go away on their own without treatment. Larger boils will usually require treatment. Common places for boils include the neck, face, armpits, arms, and buttocks and around the back passage (anus).

Typically, after several days to a week, the boil will burst, and pus will discharge out. The pain tends to improve when the boil bursts. The infection in the surrounding skin will usually settle gradually over several days, but you may be left with a scar the site.

A boil may need incision and drainage (a small cut is made by a doctor to let the pus drain).

Treatment commonly involves draining the pus and/or taking a course of antibiotics. They usually occur as a one-off in a healthy person. If you have recurring boils you are advised to see your GP to have tests to check for an underlying cause.

Antibiotic treatments we may prescribe if clinically appropriate:

Please see the 'Common Treatments' section below for further information.


Common Symptoms

You may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • a hard, tender, red lump surrounding a hair follicle
  • enlargement of the lump
  • pain
  • pus discharging from the lump
  • redness of the skin around the lump
  • may have a mild fever or feel tired and run down
Common Treatments

Speak to your pharmacist for advice on over-the-counter treatments that may help such as creams and painkillers.

Possible treatments we prescribe if clinically appropriate:


*Prices shown are cost price of the medication, taken from the British National Formulary 2018, and are given as a guideline. Pharmacies will add a dispensing fee to this which will vary considerably, so it is worthwhile phoning around to compare prices. The medication is paid for at your chosen pharmacy. 

Please click on the medication above to read the Patient Information Leaflet for important information about each drug. We use national prescribing guidelines to select which treatment would be most appropriate for your condition.

 

Risk factors for boils

The source of staphylococcal infection is usually from the nose or the genital area. It is thought that the infection is spread by the fingers and by clothing.

The following may increase the risk of developing boils:

  • if you have other skin conditions that may cause you to scratch and damage the skin such as eczema.
  • if you have an illness making you feel run down, tired or generally unwell. 
  • if you have a poor immunity.
  • diabetes.
  • if you are very overweight (obese).
  • if you are a carrier of staphylococcal bacteria.
Self-help

  • Use a warm flannel over the affected area for 30 minutes, three to four times a day. This may help the boil to burst and release the infection. If this occurs, then please use a sterile dressing over the wound to reduce the risk of the infection spreading.
  • Simple painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can help ease any discomfort. Please read the information leaflet contained with the medication or speak to a pharmacist to check that the medication is suitable for you.
  • Maintain good personal hygiene.
  • Wash your hands carefully after contact with the boil.
  • Wash and tumble dry underclothes, bed linen, and towels at a high temperature daily (if possible) to stop spreading the infection to other parts of their body, or to other people.
  • Use a separate towel and face cloth.
  • Try to wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothes.
  • Keep open wounds or grazes clean and covered with sterile gauze until they heal.
  • Change dressings frequently. Discard used gauze or dressings immediately. 
  • To avoid passing the infection on to others, do not participate in contact sports, or visit a swimming pool or gym until the boil has healed.
Complications

Complications of boils are uncommon, however, it is important to be aware of them. There is a small risk that some bacteria from the boil may spread in the bloodstream to cause serious infections of the bone, brain or other parts of the body. 

When to seek further medical advice

Please note that i-GP DOES NOT TREAT Medical Emergencies. For Medical Emergencies please call 999.

If you develop any of the following symptoms, then it is important to seek medical advice as soon as possible:

  • If you develop a persistent high fever (high temperature) which can cause shivers.
  • If the pain becomes worse.
  • If you feel increasingly unwell (this may include nausea and vomiting).
  • If you develop spreading redness affecting your skin around the site of your boil.
  • If you develop any painful, red and hot joints near to the boil.
Antibiotic Guardianship

Antibiotics should be used responsibly and only when really necessary. Overuse and misuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance. This is where the antibiotic becomes less effective at treating certain types of bacterial infection, so they do not work when needed. 

Antibiotics should be taken as prescribed, and it is important to complete the full course, this can reduce the chance of the bacteria developing an immunity to that antibiotic. It is important not to share antibiotics, and always take unused medication to your local pharmacy for disposal.

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