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A boil, also called a furuncle, is a bacterial or fungal infection of a hair follicle. Read more on how to treat these.

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Furuncle is another word for a boil. Boils are bacterial or fungal infections of hair follicles. The infected hair follicle can be on any part of your body, not only your scalp. When the hair follicle becomes infected, the skin around it becomes inflamed. The furuncle looks like a red, raised bump on your skin and will rupture and weep fluid.

Furuncles are most commonly found on the face and neck. You might also develop a boil on your thigh or buttocks.

Symptoms of a Furuncle

A furuncle may begin as a benign-looking bump on your skin, similar to a pimple. However, as the infection worsens, the boil can become hard and painful. Bacteria and dead skin cells may build up under the skin, forming pus. Pressure builds, which may cause the furuncle to burst and release its fluids.

The pain is usually at its worst right before a furuncle ruptures and will most likely improve after it drains.

According to the Mayo Clinic, furuncles range in size from as small as a pea to as big as a golf ball. The skin around the infected hair follicle may become red, swollen, and tender. Scarring is also possible.

The development of several boils in the same general area of your body is called a carbuncle. Carbuncles may cause a fever and chills. These symptoms are less common with a single boil.

What Causes Furuncles?

Any type of bacteria or fungi can cause a furuncle. The most common bacterium is Staphylococcus aureus, hence why furuncles can also be called staph infections. Everyone has S. aureus on their skin as a normal occurrence. The bacterium causes an infection only if it enters your bloodstream through an open wound, such as a cut or a scratch. Once the bacterium is in your blood, your immune system tries to fight it and the boil is actually the result of your white blood cells working to eliminate it.

You are more likely to develop a boil if your immune system is compromised or if you have a medical condition that slows down the healing of your wounds. Diabetes and eczema, a chronic skin disorder characterized by extremely dry, itchy skin, are two examples of chronic conditions that may increase your risk of getting a staph infection. Your risk can also increase if you engage in close, personal contact with someone who already has a staph infection.

Treating Furuncles

Many people do not need to see a doctor for treatment unless a boil remains large, unruptured, or very painful for more than two weeks. Usually a furuncle will already have drained and begun to heal within this timeframe.

Treatment for stubborn furuncles generally includes steps to promote drainage and healing. Warm compresses can help speed the rupturing of a furuncle. Apply a warm, moist compress throughout the day to facilitate drainage.

Continue to apply warmth to provide both healing and pain relief after a boil has ruptured. Wash your hands and the boil site thoroughly and frequently with warm water and antibacterial soap to avoid spreading the staph bacteria to other areas of your body.

Contact your doctor if your furuncle remains unruptured or if you are in severe pain after a couple of weeks. You may need antibiotics to clear the infection. Your doctor may also elect to manually drain the boil with sterile instruments in their office. Do not try to open it yourself by squeezing, pricking, or cutting the boil. This can increase your risk of deeper infection and severe scarring.

Complications from Furuncles

The majority of furuncles heal without medical intervention or complications, but in rare cases, boils can lead to more complicated and dangerous medical conditions.


Blood poisoning is an infection of the bloodstream that may occur after having a furuncle. This type of infection, called sepsis, can lead to infections in the heart’s lining or in the brain.


Another possible complication associated with boils is the development of an infection called MRSA. MRSA, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is resistant to many antibiotics used to treat furuncles. This infection is more serious and your doctor will most likely prescribe a different kind of antibiotic called vancomycin if you develop this infection.

Preventing Furuncles

Prevent furuncles through good personal hygiene. If you do have a staph infection, to keep it at bay and prevent it from spreading:

  • wash your hands often
  • clean all open wounds and keep wounds covered with bandages
  • avoid sharing personal items such as sheets, towels, clothing, or razors
  • wash bedding in hot water or bleach to kill the bacteria
  • avoid contact with other people infected with staph or MRSA
Written by: Erica Roth
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by: [Ljava.lang.Object;@ee6ba46
Published: Sep 10, 2012
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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