A boil is a red, swollen, painful
bump under the skin. It often looks like an overgrown pimple. Boils are often
caused by infected hair follicles. Bacteria from the infection form an
abscess, or pocket of pus. A boil can become large and
cause severe pain.
Boils most often happen where there is hair and
rubbing. The face, neck, armpits, breasts, groin, and buttocks are common
How do you treat a boil?
You can sometimes care
for a boil at home.
Do not squeeze, scratch, drain, or open the boil. Squeezing can
push the infection deeper into the skin.
Gently wash the area with soap and water twice a day. Dry it
Put warm, wet cloths on the boil for 20 to 30 minutes, 3 or 4
times a day. Do this as soon as you notice a boil. The heat and moisture can
help the boil to open and drain, but it may take 5 to 7 days. A warm compress
or waterproof heating pad placed over a damp towel may also help.
Keep using heat for 3 days after the boil opens. Put a bandage
on it so the drainage does not spread. Change the bandage every day.
If the boil is draining on its own, let it drain. Keep cleaning
it twice a day with soap and water.
To help keep the infection from
spreading, do not share towels and washcloths with other people.
Your doctor may want to cut a small opening in the boil
so that the pus can drain out. This is called lancing the boil. He or she will
numb the area first. Sometimes gauze is placed in the cut so that it stays open
and keeps draining.
Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics to
stop the infection. Take your antibiotics as directed. Do not stop taking them
just because you feel better or the boil looks better. You need to take the
full course of antibiotics.
When should you call a doctor?
Call your doctor
The boil is on your face, near your spine, or near your
A boil is getting larger.
You have any other lumps near the boil, especially if they
You are in a lot of pain.
You have a fever.
The area around the boil is red or has red streaks leading from
The boil has not improved after 5 to 7 days of home
You get many boils over several months.
How can you prevent boils?
If you often get
boils in the same spot, gently wash the area well with
soapy water every day. Antibacterial soap may help prevent boils. Always dry
the area well. Do not wear tight clothing over the area.
have many boils, your doctor may prescribe a cream or ointment that you put
inside your nose. This is because the bacteria that usually cause boils
sometimes live inside the nose and then spread to other areas, including your
skin. Your doctor may also advise you to take antibiotics for a longer time
than normal. These medicines may help keep boils from coming back.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) provides information
about the care of skin. You can locate a dermatologist in your
area by using their "Find a Dermatologist" tool. Or you can read the latest news in dermatology. "SPOT Skin Cancer" is the AAD's program to reduce deaths from melanoma. There is also a link called "Skin Conditions" that has information about many common skin problems.
Craft N, et al. (2008). Superficial cutaneous infections and pyodermas. In K Wolff et al., eds., Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine, 7th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1694–1709. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Morelli JG (2007). Cutaneous bacterial infections. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th ed., pp. 2741–2745. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
Swartz MN, Pasternack MS (2005). Cellulitis section of Cellulitis and subcutaneous tissue infections. In GL Mandell et al., eds., Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, 6th ed., vol. 1, pp. 1175–1176. Philadelphia: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone.
Primary Medical Reviewer
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.