A boil, also known as an abscess, is a localized infection of the skin. The boil begins as an area of red skin that feels tender. It can be raised from the surrounding area, or at the same level. As the infection develops, the skin hardens and the middle is filled with pus. The pus is actually made up of blood white cells, dead bacteria and some proteins. In some cases, the pus that accumulates up top of the boil can be removed and drained.

All boils might look the same but there are actually many causes and different types of infection. When an oil duct gets blocked, the resulting infection is named cystic acne. Compared to the common version of acne, the cystic one reaches much deeper inside the skin. Both teenagers and adults can be affected by this condition.

Furuncles or carbuncles and localized infections caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. A furuncle usually affects a single hair follicle, while carbuncles have a larger size and develop over several follicles at the same time. Unlike other boils, furuncles are always caused by the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. This is a common bacteria normally found on the skin and in the nose of about 30 percent of people. As long as it stays on the skin, this bacteria doesn't usually cause any problems. However, if it penetrates the skin and reaches other tissues, it can start a number of infections, some of them severe.

It is known that some areas of the skin are more vulnerable to boils and infections. These include the face, armpits, groin, buttocks or the throat area. Some boils have specific names. Several united furuncles with multiple heads are known as a carbuncle, while boils located on eyelids are named styes.

Hidradenitis suppurativa is a specific condition that can affect sweat glands. When this becomes infected and starts to inflame, several boils or larger abscesses appear around the groin and armpits. Another special type of infection are pilonidal cysts, which are located in the buttock crease. This is a very painful condition that can become serious, caused by a single infected hair follicle.

Most boils don't require medical attention or treatment and heal by themselves after a while. Severe cases or massive eruptions have to be treated, the most common options are a cure of antibiotics or draining the pus from the boil.

Symptoms of boils

Boils are usually located around a hair follicle and look like red bumps filled with pus. The skin of the area is very sensitive and it can also be warm or painful. The size varies from very small to very big, comparable to a golf ball. Pus accumulates inside the boil until a white or yellow point becomes visible on its head. The boil is now ready to be drained if needed.

While boils are not usually very serious, severe infections can happen. Complications include pain, fever, general fatigue or swollen lymph nodes. Some people suffer from persistent and repetitive skin infections that can also be transmitted in the family. Chronic furunculosis is a disease that produces boils repeatedly. Boils are sometimes triggered by scratching the skin as a result of other conditions. There are also a number of factors that reduce immunity and increase the chance of boils, such as liver problems, diabetes or obesity.

Boils are common on the face but can be located anywhere on the body. They are found on the chest, arms, legs, buttocks, around the anus or inside the ears. When they appear around the eyes, boils are named styes. A gumboil, scientifically called intraoral dental sinus, is a boil inside the mouth.

Causes of boils

The main culprits for boils are staphylococcal bacteria. These are harmless on the skin surface but cause infections if they can enter the body. Usually, the bacteria use hair follicles or cuts to go through the skin and infect the inner tissues. The boil increases and fills with pus, which is the body's natural mechanism of defence. White cells travel through the blood to the spot of the infection and form the pus after mixing with the bacteria and proteins. Eventually the head of the boil becomes larger and is ready to burst. After the pus is released, the infection is cleared from the body.

People with reduced immunity have a higher risk to be affected by boils. The cause can be a disease like diabetes, various autoimmune conditions or cancer. Bad hygiene also allows more bacteria to develop and makes boils more likely. They can also be caused by any agents that hurt the skin, like toxic chemicals or acids. Other common causes of boils are blocked hair follicles, blocked sweat ducts, ingrown hair or any object that pierces the skin, such as a splinter.

Treatment options

Boils usually heal on their own or can be cured with natural remedies, a classic medical treatment is rarely required. It is a good idea to start treating a boil as soon as you notice it. If the boil receives attention as early as possible, the chance of complications is severely reduced. However, if the boil refuses to heal or if a large number of them emerge, there might be a more serious problem and you should ask for medical advice. In most cases, the boil can be treated solely with natural remedies. If the problem persists, you should go to your doctor for a diagnostic, since the boil might be part of a larger problem.

One of the oldest home remedies for boils is the application of a hot compress over them. The mechanism is simple: the heat boosts blood circulation in the area, which allows more white cells to reach the spot. It is a well-tested natural way to increase healing speed. If the boil has to be drained, it is not a good idea to do it yourself. Doctors have both the expertise and the proper tools to do it safely. Scientists are not sure that boils should be drained anyway. Many of them argue that it actually does more harm than good and boils should be allowed to burst and drain naturally.

Other well-known home remedies for boils are onions and garlic, two common vegetables. It is very easy to take advantage of their properties by simply applying the juice directly on the boils. The infection will mature and burst a lot faster. The juices can be applied individually or even mixed for a stronger effect.

Mixing a teaspoon of milk cream with a teaspoon of vinegar and a bit of turmeric produces a poultice that is also known to be a potent cure. Turmeric kills bacteria in the area, while the other two components dry the boil and the area around it. This prevents the infection from spreading.

Another popular home remedy uses cumin seeds. These are ground into powder and mixed with water to create a paste that can be applied externally on the skin. Parsley leaves, boiled in hot water, can be wrapped in a cloth then applied on the boil as a poultice. This remedy also limits the spread of infection by making the boils burst faster.

Turmeric powder and basil have a strong antiseptic effect and can be eaten in order to kill the bacteria inside the body, or applied externally. For this purpose, you can prepare a paste from turmeric powder and juice of holy basil leaves, eventually adding other ingredients like ginger and asafoetida.

There are also a number of herbal food supplements that can counter boils. Some herbs known to be effective are goldenseal, burdock and Echinacea. Cosmetic products that include tea tree oil are also useful against skin infections. Taking a bath in hot water with Epsom salts also speeds up healing of boils and provides comfort and pain relief.

A common root cause of boils is improper nutrition. Including more fresh fruits and vegetables in your daily menu can be very useful in the prevention of all types of skin infections. Applying Elma 01 Skin Ointment is also very effective in the case of boils.

However, just like all natural remedies, you should be aware that most of them haven't been validated by scientific research. Don't rely only on such methods and go to a doctor immediately if they are ineffective and the problem persists.