Most of us get pimples from time to time. They’re sore, red, and swollen, but they usually go away (or at least get smaller) in a week or so.
Sometimes, though, a red bump that looks like a pimple doesn’t go away — in fact, it just gets worse. If that happens to you, there’s a good chance that what you have is not an ordinary pimple, but a boil — a more serious type of skin infection caused by a different type of bacterium.
The doctors at South Florida Surgical Group are skilled in treating boils. Both Michael Renfrow, MD, FACS, and Steven Kanter, MD, FACS, use a patient-centered approach aimed at relieving boil symptoms and preventing the infection from spreading.
If you think you have a boil, here’s what you should know about why they happen and how they’re treated.
Why boils form
Boils begin when a hair follicle or oil gland becomes infected with bacteria. Most boils are caused by bacteria in the Staphylococcus family. (Acne is caused by Cutibacterium acnes bacteria.)
Initially, the skin around the infected area turns pinkish and mild swelling develops as the bacteria grow and multiply under your skin. As the infection continues, your body’s immune system sends out white blood cells to fight off the bacteria, and pus forms, forming a whitish or yellowish bump.
Boils are more likely to form in areas of your body where you have more hair or oil glands, including your face, armpits, neck, shoulders, or buttocks. Boils sometimes form on the eyelid near the eyelashes. This type of boil is called a sty.
Risk factors for boils
Anyone can develop a boil, but they tend to be more common among people who have:
- Immune system problems
- Poor hygiene
- Poor nutrition
- Skin irritation
These risk factors either make it easier for bacteria to enter your skin or make it harder for your body to fight off an infection.
The most visible symptom of a boil is the red, tender lump it forms. Initially, the lump may look like a large pimple. As the infection intensifies, the skin around the lump also turns red and sore. At some point, the boil may drain, releasing the pus and debris it contains.
More serious infections can cause symptoms like:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Red streaks extending from the boil
- Increasing pain in and around the boil
- Formation of a carbuncle, indicating the spread of infection
Even though a boil resembles a pimple, you should never squeeze it (nor should you squeeze a pimple). Squeezing a boil can force bacteria deeper under your skin, allowing bacteria to spread and cause a much more serious infection.
It’s important to know that active boils are contagious — they can be spread by skin-to-skin contact or through contact with an infected object. If you have a boil, keep it covered until you can seek medical treatment to prevent it from spreading to someone else.
Our doctors are skilled in treating boils and preventing more serious infections from occurring. In most cases, the treatment you’ll receive depends on the extent of your infection.
A boil that has already drained may need to be cleaned to prevent the infection from recurring. Boils that remain intact typically need to be drained and cleaned in our office.
To drain a boil, we numb your skin and then use a medical instrument to open the boil so the infected material can drain out. Deep infections may be packed with surgical gauze to keep the area clean while it heals.
After treatment, we may prescribe an antibiotic, and you’ll receive instructions on how to clean and care for the area while it heals. For some infections, we might order a blood test to make sure the infection hasn’t spread.
Don’t ignore a boil
Staph bacteria can cause serious and even life-threatening infections if they’re not treated early. Boils need medical treatment to prevent infections from spreading.
If you have a boil, don’t delay treatment. Call South Florida Surgical Group or book an appointment online at our practice in the Kendall neighborhood of Miami, Florida.