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Boils have been the plague of mankind since long before man knew the definition of plague. These pus-filled lumps and bumps – known medically as furuncles – occur when bacteria infects a hair follicle. Boils will continue to grow and become more painful until they eventually burst. Fortunately, there are many home remedies for boils, and only in extreme cases do they require medical attention. A visit to the doctor is required only if the boil fails to dissipate within a couple weeks, if one develops a fever, or if the boil reaches a frighteningly large size.
The best home remedies for boils should focus on treatments one should not attempt. Never burst or lance a boil, as such an action could easily spread the infection into the bloodstream or other parts of the body. Lancing or popping a boil can lead to blood poisoning, which is potentially fatal. The boil will generally burst and drain on its own, but until that point, there are a few common sense measures one can take.
One of the best home treatments for boils is to apply a warm, saltwater-soaked washcloth to the boil numerous times per day. This will help with pain, but more important, it will encourage the boil to burst and drain. The compress should be left on the boil for at least ten minutes per treatment. One should very gently wash the boil and surrounding area, and cover it loosely with a bandage. Due to the infectious nature of boils, frequent hand washing is a must. In addition, clothing, towels, and washrags that have come in contact with a boil should be washed, in order to avoid transferring the infection to others in a household.
There are countless home remedies for boils, none of which are proven to be effective. On the other hand, most of these curatives will cause no harm. Many people apply garlic juice or onion juice to the boil, believing it will cause the furuncle to burst much more quickly than if left alone. Others apply a poultice consisting of cream, cider vinegar, and turmeric, feeling that it will stimulate a similar effect.
Virtually all of the home treatments for boils follow the same line of reasoning, creating a paste out of various substances and spices and applying them to the infected area. The Aztecs preferred a cornmeal and water paste. For 19th and early 20th century residents of the Ozark Mountains, a snakeskin soaked in vinegar and tied over the boil was said to be a certain cure. One of the most popular home remedies for boils — apparently still used by many — involves rolling slices of bacon in salt. The salted pork is then placed in a thin cloth and either tied or bandaged to the boil.
A guy who goes to church with me had a boil on his back. He tried hot compresses and said it drained but came back. Finally, he started running a fever and went to the emergency room. The ER doctor looked at the boil and said he wasn't touching it, that he was sending the guy for surgery!
In three hours, my friend was in the OR, and the doctor had to cut away quite a bit of infection. My friend said the doctor told him he was on his way to a bloodstream infection, and should have seen his doctor when the boil returned.
Home remedies do work, but you need to see the doctor if it doesn't go away or you start feeling punk or running a fever.
I always heard a wash cloth soaked in water as hot as you can stand it was the best remedy to get the boil to come to a head and drain. The couple of boils that I've had responded to that treatment.
I'd also say the location of the boil is key to whether you need to see a doctor. If the boil is right at the base of the spine, just above where the cheeks start to split, it may well be a pilonidal cyst, which will almost certainly require a doctor's care. My sister and husband have both had them and both had to hit the ER to get them lanced. They get infected very easily and almost never heal spontaneously if they aren't manually drained. They are seriously nasty.