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Boils: Remedies and Treatments

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 10, 2020

Boils are painful, swollen bumps under the skin that are red in color and may feel warm to the touch. They often look like large pimples, but they’re actually the result of an infected hair follicle. Boils fill with pus and can range from uncomfortable to very painful.

Boils are common skin infections that typically occur in places on the body with hair or where rubbing can occur. Usually, they form in places that can get sweaty, such as the face, neck, armpits, breasts, groin, and buttocks. One single hair follicle can get infected, or a group of them can get infected, which is called a carbuncle.

There are some common symptoms to look out for if you think you have a boil. While boils are large and red, usually a yellow or white tip appears where the pus will eventually drain out. The boil usually grows over time as it fills with pus. You may also experience a fever with a large boil as your body fights off the infection.

Remedies and Treatments for Boils

There are several remedies for boils that can help you treat them at home without medical attention. It’s important that you don’t pick at the boil or try to pop it yourself. The boil may drain on its own, which is important in the healing process. Don’t try to speed things up by doing it yourself.

Since a boil is a skin infection, it’s possible you could pass it on to other people. To avoid this, you shouldn’t go to public swimming pools or gyms until your boil has cleared up.

Apply Warm Compresses

The first thing you should do to help get rid of boils is apply a warm compress. Soak a washcloth in warm water and then press it gently against the boil for about 10 minutes. You can repeat this several times throughout the day.

Use a Heating Pad

Just like with a warm compress, using a heating pad can help the boil start to drain. You can put a heating pad over a damp towel and lay it on the affected area. It may take up to a week for the boil to start opening up and draining the pus. Keep applying heat, either with a heating pad or compress, for up to three days after the boil opens.

Keep It Clean

As with any infection, you want to keep the area clean. Use antibacterial soap and warm water to wash the boil twice daily, and then gently pat the area dry. It’s a good idea to keep the towels and washcloths that come in contact with the boil separate from other towels.

Use a Cover or Bandage

To help the boil heal faster, you should try to keep it covered. After you wash the boil and the area around it, apply a clean dressing to keep it covered and protected. You can use a bandage or gauze.

Practice Good Hygiene

One of the keys to treating a boil is to practice good hygiene. After touching the boil or surrounding area, make sure you thoroughly wash your hands to prevent spreading the infection to other parts of your body — or passing it to another person. Also, you should have a bath or a shower daily to keep your skin clean and prevent the spread of infection.

Wash Your Linens

The key to treating boils at home is cleanliness. To help lower the risk of further infection, wash your bedding, clothing, and towels at least once a week at a high temperature to kill off bacteria. Do not share your towels with anyone else while you have a boil.

Take Pain Reducer

If you’re in a lot of pain because of your boil, you can take ibuprofen or paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen. These can also help lower your fever if your boil is causing one.

When to See a Doctor

While treating a boil at home and being patient is usually enough, there are some situations in which you may want to seek medical attention.

Typically, home remedies for boils help to speed up the healing process or alleviate the discomfort they cause. It’s important to remember that boils need one or two weeks to heal. If your boil still doesn’t go away after this time, you should make an appointment with your doctor.

You should also see your doctor if you’ve tried home remedies to get rid of boils and they reoccur. If more boils appear, the skin around the boil is hot and painful, or if you have a recurring fever, you may need medical assistance.

A doctor can make an incision to carefully drain the boil of the pus inside. If the infection is too deep to drain completely, your doctor may pack it with gauze to soak up the remaining pus. The doctor may also prescribe antibiotics if you have recurring boils.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology Association: “How to Treat Boils and Styes.”

Health Direct: “Boils.”

Michigan Medicine: “Boils.”

National Health Service: “Boils.”

NCH Healthcare System: “Boils and carbuncles.”

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