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Stages of a Boil: What to Expect and What You Can Do

Stages of a Boil: What to Expect and What You Can Do

Furuncles, or more commonly known as boils, are bacterial infections in the skin caused by a bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. Very similar to pimples and cysts, boils are formed when a hair follicle and its surrounding tissue get infected and inflamed by the bacteria. This occurs in the first stages of a boil.

This immune reaction will cause the puss to fill up the infected tissue surrounding the hair follicle. The inflammation of the surrounding tissue, coupled with the accumulating puss will cause a large, smooth, reddish, and painful bump filled with pus.

It is referred to as a carbuncle when multiple hair follicles in close proximity all get infected and form multiple boils. Although similar, boils are still different from pimples the latter only affect the sebaceous gland and its immediate surrounding area. The boil, on the other hand, goes as deep as the hair follicle, affecting a larger area. Therefore, boils cause a larger, more painful, puss-filled bump.

Stages of a Boil

There are several stages of a boil: the initial infection, the inflammation, the swelling, and the drainage and healing. Here are those stages.

1. Initial infection

In this stage, there is a bacterial infection of the hair follicle. It occurs if the hair follicle is damaged, usually through excessive pulling, twisting, or minor injuries like shallow cuts and scrapes.

2. Inflammation

Once the bacteria have entered the hair follicle, it will start building-up and infect the surrounding tissue as well. This infection will lead to inflammation and cause pain.

3. Swelling

Out of all the stages of a boil, this will be the most noticeable because the infection will cause the body to react and defend itself. White blood cells will flood the area to fight the bacterial infection. And so after a few days to a week, you may see some swelling under the skin and the formation of a large whitehead.

4. Draining

The last of all the stages of a boil. Boils usually last around 20-21 days and will naturally drain themselves. However, if the area around the boil is not properly cleaned and maintained, the bacteria can reach the surface of the skin and spread to other hair follicles, causing further infection. Multiple boils can start forming or make the initial boil much larger and more painful. One should get checked-up by a doctor at this point. Your doctor may drain the boil to speed up healing.

Causes and Prevention

Since a boil is caused by a bacterial infection, there are actually quite a few easy things to do to avoid them. Here are some tips:

  • Stay healthy – A healthy person is far less likely to get a boil because their immune system will be more effective in fighting bacterial infection.
  • Stay comfy – Wearing ill-fitting clothes or excessively tight clothes may cause hair follicles to become irritated. This will increase the chances of someone developing a boil.
  • Maintain good hygiene – It is advised to take regular showers and change clothes regularly to avoid dirt and bacteria build-up. Any sweat, dirt, dust, or bacteria that clings to your skin for a prolonged period of time can lead to an increased risk of a bacterial infection.

Diagnosis and Treatments

Boils are fairly easy to diagnose from the appearance and symptoms and can be treated easily as well. Treatments for a boil are straightforward so one should not worry too much. If boils are often recurring in the same area or are not improving or disappearing after a long time, consult your doctor.

Here’s how boils are usually addressed.

  • Draining – If the boil’s condition is not too severe or no complications arise, draining and cleaning the boil is often enough to remove it and allow the wound to heal. The doctor will make a small incision on the boil itself to allow the pus to drain. The doctor may also insert a few pieces of sterile gauze to further clean the inside of the wound and remove any additional pus. Cleaning the wound is essential to avoid further infection.
  • Antibiotics – These are only used if the boil becomes severe or develops into a carbuncle and spreads to other areas. Once a boil becomes severe, the bacteria may spread to other parts of the body like the bloodstream, heart, brain, and spinal cord.

Key Takeaways

Boils are painful but are simple and quick to treat. For severe cases, always consult a doctor and avoid draining the boil by yourself to prevent further infection.

Learn more about Skin Infections here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


BOILS AND CARBUNCLES, https://www.healthyhorns.utexas.edu/HT/HT_boils.html Accessed January 11, 2021

BOILS AND CARBUNCLES, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/boils-and-carbuncles/symptoms-causes/syc-20353770 Accessed January 11, 2021

BOILS AND CARBUNCLES: AN OVERVIEW, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513141/Accessed January 11, 2021

HOW ARE BOILS TREATED?, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513136/Accessed January 11, 2021

BOILS, https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/zx1778 Accessed January 11, 2021

BOILS, https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/diseases-conditions/boils Accessed January 11, 2021


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Written by Giann Floresca Updated Sep 08
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel