Dermatology Associates of the Bay Area

Skin Infection
Boils and Carbuncles
Boils, carbuncles and skin infections from staph

Boils and carbuncles are bacterial infections of the skin that form red, painful, pus-filled bumps. They usually arise on the face, neck, back, legs, and buttocks.

Carbuncles is the name given to a cluster of boils. Carbuncles tend to cause deeper, more severe infections than boils.

Boils and carbuncles are due to a hair follicle becoming infected with bacteria, usually; staphylococcus aureus).

You should seek medical attention if a boil or carbuncle becomes extremely painful, lasts more than 2 weeks, or is accompanied by a fever.

In some cases, cellulitis can develop around the boil or carbuncle. Cellulitis causes the skin to turn pink or red, become painful and tender to the touch. Cellulitis requires medical attention.

Your doctor may drain the boil or carbuncle by making a small incision at the top. This releases the infected fluids, resulting in less pain and a lower risk of scarring. Deep infections that can't be completely drained may be covered with sterile gauze so that infected fluids can continue to drain.

Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat severe or recurrent infections.

The following steps may help you avoid staph infections:

  • Clean all cuts and scrapes with soap and water, then apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment, such a Neosporin or Bacitracin.
  • Avoid tight clothes that can chafe skin and irritate hair follicles.

The following steps may help a boil or carbuncle heal faster and avoid spreading.

  • Apply a warm washcloth for at least 10 minutes every few hours. This helps the boil drain more quickly.
  • Gently wash the boil at least twice a day with antibacterial soap.
  • After washing, apply a topical antibiotic and cover it with a bandage.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after touching a boil.
  • Launder any clothing, towels, or compresses that have touched the infected skin.