Symptoms of Carbuncles
The boils that collect to form carbuncles usually start as red, painful bumps. The carbuncle fills with pus and develops white or yellow tips that weep, ooze, or crust. Over a period of several days, many untreated carbuncles rupture, discharging a creamy white or pink fluid.
Superficial carbuncles -- which have multiple openings on the skin's surface -- are less likely to leave a deep scar. Deep carbuncles are more likely to cause significant scarring.
Other carbuncle symptoms include fever, fatigue, and a feeling of general sickness. Swelling may occur in nearby tissue and lymph nodes, especially lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin.
Complications of Carbuncles
Sometimes, carbuncles are caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, and require treatment with potent prescription antibiotics if the lesions are not drained properly.
In rare cases, bacteria from a carbuncle can escape into the bloodstream and cause serious complications, including sepsis and infections in other parts of the body such as the lung, bones, joints, heart, blood, and central nervous system.
Sepsis is an overwhelming infection of the body that is a medical emergency and can be fatal if left untreated. Symptoms include chills, a spiking fever, rapid heart rate, and a feeling of being extremely ill.
Home Treatment for Carbuncles
The cardinal rule is to avoid squeezing or irritating a carbuncle, which increases the risk of complications and severe scarring.
Warm compresses may promote the drainage and healing of carbuncles. Gently soak the carbuncle in warm water, or apply a clean, warm, moist washcloth for 20 minutes several times per day. Similar strategies include covering the carbuncle with a clean, dry cloth and gently applying a heating pad or hot water bottle for 20 minutes several times per day. After each use, washcloths or cloths should be washed in hot water and dried at a high temperature.
Washing the carbuncle and covering the area with a sterile bandage also may promote drainage and healing and help prevent the infection from spreading. Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help relieve the pain of an inflamed carbuncle.
It's important to thoroughly wash your hands after touching a carbuncle. Launder any clothing, bedding, and towels that have touched a carbuncle and avoid sharing bedding, clothing, or other personal items.