Ever wonder if that growth is just a really bad pimple or a boil? While the two may start out similarly — as a raised, reddish spot on your skin — a boil continues to grow larger and becomes more painful. A boil is like a pimple on steroids. In fact, boils can grow to be larger than a golf ball in size. (1) No one wants that, which is why it’s important to know how to get rid of a boil.
What is a boil? Medically speaking, a boil or furuncle is an infection of the skin typically caused by bacteria. Are you wondering, what does a boil look like? It pretty much looks like a really outrageous version of a pimple. At its worst, it can be quite red, swollen and painful to the slightest touch. A bacterially infected hair follicle or oil gland is usually at the root of a boil’s formation. As this bacteria (most commonly staph) flourishes, a pocket of pus starts to form, and the boil often begins to balloon outward with a liquid-filled center. The most common areas for boils to occur are places on the body where there’s a lot of friction and sweat, like the armpits and buttocks.
The good news is that even conventional medical institutions like the Mayo Clinic agree when it comes to how to get rid of a boil — you can usually care for a single boil at home. (2) So even conventional thinking agrees that natural, home treatment is best as long as you don’t have a serious infection or multiple boils at once. Here is what you need to know about these (sometimes) literal pains in the butt, how you can avoid them, the best home remedies for boils and how to get rid of a boil as fast as possible — like how to get rid of pimples.
What Is a Boil?
A boil or furuncle is a skin infection that begins in an oil gland or hair follicle. What causes boils? Boils are usually caused by usually caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. This is one of 30 kinds of Staphylococcus better known simply as “staph.” Other bacteria or fungi found on the skin’s surface can also cause boils, but staph is the most common cause. (3) A boil or furuncle is a type of abscess. An abscess is defined as a painful collection of pus, usually caused by a bacterial infection.
A boil is typically round in shape and raised from the skin surface. Boils are tender to the touch. When one first appears, the skin turns pinkish red in that area, and a tender bump arises from the skin’s surface. After four to seven days, the boil will start turning white as pus collects under the skin. It’s very tempting to want to “pop” the boil at this point, but hands off because you can spread the infection and make things even worse (more on this shortly).
Boils can occur in the hair follicles anywhere on the entire body, but they’re most common on the face, neck, armpits, buttocks and thighs. (4) They can also occur in areas like the ear canal or nose. These boil locations can be especially painful. How to get rid of a boil can be more complicated in areas like these as well.
You can have one boil or multiple boils. If several boils appear together in a group, this is a more serious type of infection called a carbuncle. Recurring boils are also known as chronic furunculosis, a condition in which you have crops of boils that occur over a period of time continuously or from time to time.
A boil usually begins as a sore, raised area on the skin that’s pinkish red. It’s typically round and about half an inch in size. If you do have a boil, during the next several days the bump will become larger and more painful yet softer. The reason it becomes softer is the boil is being filled with a clear liquid or pus.
Common boil symptoms include:
- Swollen, red lump deep in the skin
- Pain, especially when touched
- Size can vary from the size of a pea to larger than a golf ball
- May develop a central, whitish-yellow “head” that may break and release pus
- May “weep” or ooze clear fluid, or develop a crust
- As the infection gets worse, a whitish point or head can appear at the center of the boil — this is where the boil’s pus will drain from if it begins to drain on its own
- May spread to surrounding skin, creating a carbuncle
Having one boil rather than multiple boils definitely makes how to get rid of a boil easier and less involved.
Signs of a more severe infection include: (5)
- The skin surrounding the boil becomes infected and turns red, painful, warm and swollen
- A fever develops
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Additional boils pop up around the original one
People who are particularly prone to developing boils include:
- Athletes participating in contact sports or using shared equipment
- Individuals with weakened immune systems, such as people who are diabetics, have HIV, are taking certain medications like the types of medications used to prevent rejection of a transplanted organ, or are receiving chemotherapy to treat cancer
- Individuals with other skin conditions that lead to scratching and injury to the skin, such as eczema or scabies
- Staph carriers
- Obese people
- Individuals with poor nutrition
- Individuals living in close quarters with other people like prisons, military barracks or homeless shelters
Most boils are caused by staph bacteria, specifically the strain Staphylococcus aureus. This bacteria can enter the body through tiny nicks or cuts in the skin, or it can travel down the hair to the follicle. Other bacteria or fungi found on the skin’s surface can also cause boils, but staph is the most common cause of boils.
How to Get Rid of a Boil Naturally
For most healthy people with normally functioning immune systems, a relatively small boil will come to a head and drain on its own within two weeks. The easiest of natural treatments for how to get rid of a boil is to simply leave the boil alone. If you truly can leave it alone, a boil will likely break and drain on its own over time, typically within two weeks.
If you’ve had a boil, you know how tempting it is to try to pop it, but don’t! If you pop the boil yourself with a pin or needle, you may make the infection worse. Whatever you do, don’t pop, squeeze, scratch or open the boil. Squeezing can actually push the infection down deeper into your skin.
When it comes to how to get rid of a boil at home, the options are easy, natural and cost-effective.
1. Practice Good Hygiene but Skip Dangerous Antibacterial Soaps
Don’t think that you need to cover yourself in antibacterial soap once you have a boil. Antibacterial soaps and creams cannot help much once a boil has formed — plus, overuse can lead to antibacterial overkill. Instead, gently wash the boil area two times a day with soap and water, and apply a warm compress to the boil area for 20 minutes at least three or four times a day. This encourages the boil to drain on its own naturally. (6)
Once the boil opens and begins to drain on its own, keep using heat for three days after the boil opens and wash it with a natural antibacterial soap, like one that contains tea tree oil.
You can then apply a natural antibiotic ointment (easy to find at your local health food store) and a bandage. Make sure the bandage is not too tight to allow for some healing air flow. Change the bandage every day.
I highly recommend avoiding commercial antibacterial soaps. Thankfully, the FDA has banned triclosan. Even the FDA admits that regular soap and water works just as effectively as antibacterial soaps without the harmful side effects, urging everyday people to skip out on the overkill of using antibacterial soap. (7) When you have a boil, there actually is bacteria that you want to kill off so choose a natural antibacterial soap to do the job without harming your health.
In general, always bathe regularly and never share washcloths and towels to help prevent boils. You should also avoid any close contact with someone who has a staph infection or boil.
Homeopathy can be used to naturally treat boils at home. There is a really long list of possible homeopathic remedies for boils. The best homeopathic remedies for how to get rid of a boil include: (8)
- Belladonna — For the early stages of inflammation, before significant pus formation. Commonly used when the area is red, hot, throbbing and tender, often with intense or stabbing pains, and touch may increase discomfort. The person may also feel excitable or feverish.
- Hepar sulphuris calcareum — Known for speeding up the collection of pus. Typically taken once the boil opens to speed up drainage and healing.
Dosing suggestions are typically included on the label. Consult a homeopathic physician for suggestions and dosing if needed.
3. Cut Out the Sugar
Diet can play a part in boil formation and healing. Decreasing or cutting out sugar in your diet may help prevent boils before they start. If you have a boil or especially if you have reoccurring boils (furunculosis), it’s important to know that this disease is said to affect people who consume large amounts of sweets or sugar. I strongly believe that watching your intake and sources of sugar will help when it comes to preventing and healing boils, as well as your overall health since high sugar intake is linked to so many serious health problems.
So kick that sugar addiction, and decrease your risk for boils!
4. Proper Wound Care
To prevent boils, it’s important to always properly clean any minor skin openings like scratches. You might not think of a scratch as anything serious, and most of the time, it’s not. However, even a scratch is still a wound or an opening in the skin that could allow bacteria in, especially if you come in direct contact with someone who has a boil. Always make sure to properly clean all scratches and wounds on the body to prevent infection.
Furuncle vs. Carbuncle
- A carbuncle is made up of several skin boils or furuncles.
- Furuncles and carbuncles are both caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus.
- Furuncles and carbuncles are types of abscesses.
- Furuncles and carbuncles can both develop anywhere on the body.
- Furuncles are are most common on the face, neck, armpit, buttocks and thighs, while carbuncles are most common on the back and the nape of the neck.
- Carbuncles cause a deeper and more serious infection than furuncles.
- Symptoms of carbuncles are more severe than symptoms of furuncles.
- Common furuncle symptoms are typically skin-related or external, while carbuncles can cause fevers, chills and other symptoms.
- A boil can also cause a fever if the infection is bad, but a fever is more likely with a carbuncle than with a single boil.
- Carbuncles take longer to heal than furuncles.
- Most small furuncles heal without leaving a scar, but carbuncles are more likely to cause scars than furuncles.
- Men get carbuncles more often than women.
- An active boil or carbuncle is contagious, which means the infection can spread to other parts of the person’s body or to other people through direct skin-to-skin contact or the sharing of personal items.
Boil Conventional Treatment
A health care provide usually can diagnose a boil based simply on how it looks. However, a cell sample from your boil may be taken so it can be checked for the presence of staph or another bacteria.
Conventional boil treatment and prevention typically involve the recommendation of frequent use of antibacterial soaps. Your doctor may want to lance your boil, which means cutting a small opening in the boil so the pus can drain out. If the boil is extremely deep or large, your doctor may suggest surgery.
Your conventional doctor may also prescribe antibiotics if you have a boil. If you take antibiotics for a boil and it doesn’t seem to be improving within one to two days, then you should let your doctor know. This could mean that you have an infection caused by a type of antibiotic-resistant bacteria called MRSA. If this is the case, your doctor will likely prescribe another type of antibiotic.
Boil Precautions and Complications
Boils can be very contagious. Don’t share clothing, towels, bedding or sporting equipment with others while you have a boil. Wash your hands frequently to avoid spreading the infection to others as well.
It’s recommended to seek medical attention if you have a boil that hasn’t shown improvement with home treatment after a week and you exhibit one or more of the following:
- A boil that lasts more than two weeks
- Swollen lymph nodes
- A fever
- Severe pain and the boil does not drain on its down
- Skin around the boil turns red or red streaks appear
- The original boil comes back
- A second boil or a carbuncle forms
- The boil is located on your spine or face
- Repeated outbreaks of boils
- You have diabetes, a heart murmur, a problem with your immune system ortake immune-suppressing medications when you develop a boil
If an infant develops a boil of any size, he or she should be taken to the doctor immediately.
Possible complications of boils include:
- Abscess of the skin, spinal cord, brain, kidneys or other organ
- Bone, brain, heart or spinal cord infection
- Infection of the blood or tissues (sepsis)
- Spread of infection to other parts of the body or skin surfaces
- Permanent scarring
Final Thoughts on How to Get Rid of a Boil
- Boils may just look like really, really bad pimples, but they should be taken seriously since they’re typically caused by staph bacteria.
- Most boils can and will heal on their own, but they’re contagious so it’s important not to spread the infection through direct contact or by sharing personal items.
- How to get rid of a boil naturally always involves simple yet consistent care of the boil area as well as warm compresses.
- Cutting out sugar and getting more vital nutrients in your diet are excellent for both preventing and healing boils.
- If you’re already a fan of homeopathy, you might want to follow recommendations for how to get rid of a boil using homeopathic remedies. There are quite a few options depending on your symptoms.
- It’s essential to let the boil drain on its own when it’s ready to so you don’t spread the infection and increase healing time.
- If your boil doesn’t respond to home treatment after a week or you exhibit any other concerning symptoms, seek medical attention.