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Boils - Appearance and Symptoms

What a Boil Looks Like

A boil is an infection which is localized and very deep in the skin.  The swelling, which is generally about 5-10mm across, appears slightly raised from the surface of the body and is reddish in color and firm in consistency when it is developed.  A boil usually starts as a reddened and tender area, often painful to touch.  In time, the center of the boil softens and becomes filled with pus - white cells sent by the body to fight infection.  This central core of pus forms a head and ultimately drains out through the skin.  A carbuncle is a larger abscess, or group of boils, and has many heads which are visible.  These abscesses, or boils, most commonly appear on the face, back of the neck, upper torso and under arms.  On the lower part of the body, they can appear on the buttocks, in the groin area and upper legs.  These abscesses or boils, may be so deep that it is some time before they surface.

It is common for there to be swelling around the boil and also some swelling of lymph nodes near the boil.  The function of the lymph nodes, or glands, is to search for and destroy microorganisms and abnormal cells which collect in areas near the location of the lymph node.  Lymph nodes can be found in all of the areas where boils are likely to erupt, as well as under the jaw and behind the ears.  When a boil or carbuncle erupts, the lymph nodes can become swollen or painful, generally as a result of the abscess.

Treatment of a Boil

The good news is that it is possible to treat most simple boils at home.  Early treatment is suggested in order to avoid problems which could arise later on.  It is not advisable to puncture a boil yourself.  It is better to have a medical professional address it, in case it requires lancing.  However, if the boil bursts on its own, thoroughly sterilize the area around it, ensuring to wash hands after touching any part of the area of the boil and use clean towels after each shower or bath.  Cleaning the skin with an anti-bacterial soap helps to stop the build up of bacteria on the skin, ultimately reducing breeding grounds for boils.

The practice of good hygiene habits not only helps to prevent the spread of bacteria, but also has the potential to reduce the number of times recurring boils happen.