A boil or a skin abscess refers to a skin infection that is localized. The infection starts of as a tender area of the skin that is red and may or may not be slightly raised. After some time, this area becomes harder but with a soft pus-filled center. The pus in the center of a boil consists of white blood cells, bacteria and proteins. The pus then collects into a head of the boil and this head can be surgically drained and opened.
There are many different types of boils that can be found on the skin such as:
- Cystic acne is a type of skin boil or abscess that is caused by blocked oil ducts. Deeper layers of skin are affected by cystic acne as compared to common acne. Cystic acne is found in teenagers and adults.
- The Staphylococcus aureus bacteria cause carbuncles or furuncles. Furuncles are generally formed in hair follicles. Carbuncles refer to a larger boil that forms over a group of hair follicles.
- When multiple boils or abscesses form in the armpits or the groins, it is referred to as Hidradenitis suppurativa. This occurs when sweat glands get inflamed and infected.
- Pilonidal cysts refer to abscesses formed in the buttock crease. Pilonidal cysts start off as an infection in the hair follicle and develop into a firm boil that causes pain.
Symptoms of Boils
Boils typically develop as symptoms in themselves, so it would be absurd to list down the symptoms of boils. We are all well aware of what a boil looks like, but were not always sure about the type of boil. Boils may develop as a result of various possible skin conditions and dietary factors, but boils could at times be symptoms of a more serious infection. This said, there are some warning signs that may alert you to the development of a boil, as well as accompanying symptoms:
- Boils start off as a tender red nodule on any part of the body.
- As time passes the boil becomes bigger and firmer while the center gets filled with pus and is soft to touch. This also gives it a whitish appearance.
- The skin around the boil may also be painful and swollen.
- Boils may be itchy or painful.
- Boils can occur as a single eruption or a collection of boils over an area of skin.
- Swollen lymph nodes are another symptom of an infected boil.
Boils generally do not need medical attention and can be treated at home or left to resolve by themselves. However if you experience any of the following symptoms along with a boil or boils contact your doctor immediately:
- High fever and chills (especially in children)
- Severe pain
- The skin around the boil becomes unbearably painful and swollen with red streaks
- The boil does not drain even after a number of days
- You suffer from other health conditions or illnesses such as diabetes, heart problems or any autoimmune disease
- You are on medications such as corticosteroids or chemotherapy
Causes of Boils
In most cases skin boils are caused by the staphylococcal bacteria. The bacterium enters the body through small cuts in the skin or through the hair follicle and infects the skin. The pus that develops as the boil becomes larger is the bodys way of fighting the infection. Extra white blood cells are produced in the bloodstream and collect at the point of infection. These white blood cells mix with the bacteria and other proteins to form pus. As the pus collects, the head of the boil ripens and ultimately bursts to drain out the infection.
If you suffer from any autoimmune disease, kidney failure or diabetes, you are more susceptible to boils as well. People with poor immunity and poor hygiene also develop boils more easily. Boils can be caused by a variety of factors that could cause irritation to the skin such as harsh chemicals. Ingrown hairs, splinters or foreign objects lodged in the skin, and blocked sweat ducts can also contribute to the development of boils.
Remedies for Boils
Boils rarely require medical treatment and can be relieved with natural remedies, but often resolve on their own. The best cure for boils is to treat them as soon as they start developing. The earlier you begin treating a boil, the less the chances of any future complications. A persistent problem with boils or an increase in the number of boils or the skin being affected warrants medical attention however. If caused by an infection, a prompt diagnosis is critical to the effectiveness of any treatment plan. In most situations however, natural treatments can offer some help.
- The most popular treatment for boils is to apply a hot compress over the affected area. Heat increases the circulation in the area bringing more white blood cells to the infection site. This speeds up the process of healing naturally. Never try and drain or pierce a boil by yourself. If drainage is required, a doctor should do the needful using sterilized equipment and the utmost care. Experts are still in two minds about the need to forcefully drain a boil. Some believe that this is not necessary and could cause more harm than good.
- Garlic and onions are excellent home remedies for boils. Simply apply the juice of garlic or onions on the boils. This hastens the process of ripening and subsequent drainage and bursting. You can apply either garlic juice or onion juice individually on the boil or a combination of both the juices as well.
- An effective poultice for boils involves mixing a teaspoon of fresh milk cream with a teaspoon of vinegar and a pinch of turmeric powder. The antiseptic properties of turmeric aid the healing process, while the milk and vinegar dries out the boil without allowing the infection to worsen.
- Cumin seeds are used as a natural remedy for boils by grinding them into a paste with water and applying them over the infected area. You can also boil parsley leaves in water. Once they are warm, wrap the leaves in a thin cloth and use this as a poultice on the boil. This causes boils to ripen and burst without spreading the infection.
- Other home remedies for skin boils include applying a paste of ginger and asofoetida or turmeric powder and the juice of Holy basil leaves. You can also consume the paste of turmeric powder and basil as it encourages healing from within due to its strong anti-bacterial properties.
- Herbs and herbal supplements such as Echinacea, Golden seal, and Burdock can provide relief from boils. Skin care treatment containing tea tree oil has proven beneficial in the treatment of boils and abscesses.
- Soaking in a warm water bath with Epsom salts can help dry out the boil and could also offer some relief from the pain.
- Poor nutrition may also be contributing to the development of boils. Changing your diet to include fresh fruit and vegetables can go a long way in the treatment of boils and other skin infections.
While some of these remedies may help, keep in mind that most of them are based on speculation and claims that have not been verified by studies. In some cases, relying on such remedies and delaying medical attention may even be detrimental.
Diet for Boils
While your diet may not be responsible for the appearance of boils themselves, unhealthy skin is highly susceptible to the appearance of boils among other skin conditions,youre your diet and nutrition is crucial to the health of your skin. Try to stick to a diet that meets all your nutritional requirements. Vitamins like vitamins A, E and C are particularly important to the health of your skin, so try and includes foods rich in these nutrients. As fruits and vegetables are the best sources of such nutrients it may be a good idea to ditch the junk foods and colas in favor of fresh salads and fresh fruit juices. Orange juice mixed with equal quantity of water works very well due to its high vitamin C content. Increase your intake of foods that are rich in vitamin A such as sweet potatoes and squash. Zinc-rich foods are also good for the skin and aid the healing process significantly. Try sunflower seeds for a quick boost of zinc to the system. Leafy vegetables are also high in beta-carotene, which is necessary to repair skin damage. Try not to overcook vegetables as this would in a way defeat the purpose as, cooking reduces the nutritional value of the food. Raw vegetables or vegetable juices are the best options in a balanced diet.
Foods high in sugar and fat should be avoided if you are prone to boils and skin abscesses. Simple carbohydrates can aggravate skin infections and worsen boils. Too much fat and sugar, as found in items such as cakes, chocolates, and white bread can also increase the risk of skin infections and boils in the future. Caffeine and caffeine products should be avoided as well as these can aggravate boils and worse their condition.
Suggestion for Boils
There are some measures you can take to prevent boils and abscesses from developing. These include:
- Practicing good hygiene. Wash your hands with soap to prevent bacteria from developing on the skin.
- Bathing regularly and using an antibacterial soap can also prevent hair follicles from getting infected.
- Regular skin exfoliation helps unclog sweat ducts and reduces the chances of boils forming.
- For boils such as cystic acne your doctor may prescribe medication to deal with chronic infections and recurrent formation of boils.