What are boils?
Boils are red, swollen, painful bumps under the skin. They often look like an overgrown pimple. They are often caused by infected hair follicles. Bacteria from the infection form a pocket of pus. Boils can happen in an area where skin rubs. They may become large and cause severe pain.
How are they treated?
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 well.
- 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.
- If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because your boil heals. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
How can you prevent boils?
If you often get boils in the same spot, gently wash the area well with soapy water every day. Always dry the area well. Do not wear tight clothing over the area.
If you 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.
Current as of: March 21, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.