A boil is a large, red, painful lump on the skin. It is a type of skin infection that develops around a hair follicle or oil gland. These infections occur when bacteria become trapped beneath the skin.
Over time, a boil will develop a collection of pus in its center. This is known as the core of the boil. Do not attempt to remove the core at home as doing so can cause the infection to worsen or spread to other areas.
Boils can go away on their own without medical intervention. In some cases, home treatments can help alleviate symptoms and encourage healing. However, if the boil does not clear up naturally, a person should see their doctor.
Keep reading for more information on safe ways to alleviate boil symptoms at home and when to see a doctor.
How doctors remove the core of a boil
Medical professionals, such as doctors and dermatologists, are the only people who can safely remove the core of a boil.
Removing the core of a boil is an outpatient procedure that requires a local anesthetic. Once the boil and surrounding area are numb, the doctor will cut a small incision in the boil. The incision allows some of the pus to drain out.
A doctor may then insert gauze into the incision to help drain any additional pus.
A person can return home the same day of the procedure. A doctor may prescribe topical or oral antibiotics to help prevent the infection from spreading.
Why people should not remove a boil themselves at home
A person should never attempt to remove the core of a boil at home. Squeezing or bursting a boil creates an open wound on the skin. This allows bacteria from the boil to enter the bloodstream. Once inside the bloodstream, the bacteria can spread to other parts of the body.
Squeezing or bursting a boil also increases the risk of scarring. Some of the bacteria in boils may spread to other people.
In most cases, a boil will go away on its own within a few weeks. During this time, a person can try home remedies, such as warm compresses to help alleviate pain and swelling.
When to see a doctor
A boil will typically heal on its own within a few weeks. The American Academy of Dermatology state that a person should see a doctor if they experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- swelling or worsening pain after several days
- development of an additional boil or stye
- vision problems
A person may also want to visit their doctor if they have multiple or recurrent boils. This can be a sign of other underlying health issues, such as a weakened immune system.
Tips for caring for a boil at home
The following home care options may help alleviate boil symptoms or prevent the infection from spreading to other parts of your body or other people:
- taking ibuprofen to help reduce pain and swelling
- holding a warm, wet compress against the boil for 10–15 minutes three to four times each day until the pus starts to drain
- keeping the boil and its surrounding area clean
- avoiding touching the boil
- keeping a burst boil covered
- washing the hands and the area of the boil well
It can take anywhere from 2–21 days for a boil to burst and drain on its own. However, if a boil becomes bigger, does not go away, or is accompanied by fever, increasing pain, or other symptoms, a person should see their doctor.
Following treatment, a boil should drain and heal fully. The person can expect a full recovery.
Boils are bacterial skin infections that cause red, pus-filled bumps to form around hair follicles or oil glands.
Home treatments can help to alleviate symptoms and prevent the spread of infection. Treatment generally entails keeping the area clean, and applying warm compresses to encourage pus to drain from the core.
A person should never try to squeeze or burst a boil, as this can cause the infection to spread to other areas of the body. It may also result in scarring.
If a boil is particularly big, persistent, or accompanied by other symptoms, a person should see their doctor. In some cases, a doctor may carry out a procedure to drain the boil. This is an outpatient procedure requiring the use of local anesthetic.