Skin abscesses, commonly referred to as boils, are a deep infection in the skin. There are four basic forms: furuncle, cystic acne, hidradenitis suppurativa, and pilonidal cyst. The furuncle, also called a carbuncle, is caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. Cystic acne is caused by clogged oil ducts that become infected, while hidrandenitis suppurativa is caused when the sweat glands become inflamed. Pilonidal cysts occur only on the buttocks and are caused by an infection of the hair follicles that occurs after long periods of sitting.
It is possible for anyone to develop skin abscesses, but those who have an impaired immune system are more likely to develop them. Individuals with diseases such as cancer or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) are more likely to develop boils, therefore, as are those taking medications that affect the immune system. Some immune system-suppressing medications include prednisolone, prednisone, and those used with chemotherapy.
While severe skin abscesses may require surgical treatment, the majority can be treated at home. Patients should begin treatment as early as possible in order to prevent complications.
The first course of action when treating a skin abscess is to apply heat to the area, which is usually done with hot packs or by taking a hot bath. By heating the area, blood circulation is increased. This helps improve the body’s ability to fight off the infection causing the abscess, because it attracts white blood cells to the area.
While skin abscesses are still small and hard, they should not be opened and drained. In some cases, they drain on their own after being properly soaked. If not, they can be drained once they have softened and a small pustule has formed. The pustule can then be removed and the abscess can be drained. Those that have been drained are typically far less painful than those that have not. Patients may want to consult a medical professional to determine if an abscess should be drained and to help do so.
Keeping the skin clean, eating a proper diet, and getting regular exercise can also help treat and prevent skin abscesses. Each of these actions helps keep the immune system strong, improving its ability to fend off infections or illnesses.