Folliculitis, Boils, and Carbuncles

What are folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles?

Folliculitis is the inflammation of hair follicles due to an infection, injury, or irritation. It is characterized by tender, swollen areas that form around hair follicles, often on the neck, breasts, buttocks, and face. Boils are pus-filled lesions that are painful and usually firm. Boils are usually located in the waist area, groin, buttocks, and under the arm. Carbuncles are clusters of boils. These are usually found on the back of the neck or thigh.

What are the symptoms of folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles?

The following are the most common symptoms of folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles. However, each person may experience symptoms differently.

Symptoms for folliculitis may include:

  • Pus in the hair follicle
  • Irritated and red follicles
  • Damaged hair

Symptoms for boils may include:

  • Pus in the center of the boil
  • Whitish, bloody discharge from the boil

Symptoms for carbuncles (clusters of boils) may include:

  • Pus in the center of the boils
  • Whitish, bloody discharge from the boils
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Tenderness and pain at the site

The symptoms of folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles may resemble other skin conditions. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How are folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles diagnosed?

Diagnosis of folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles are made by your physician after a thorough medical history and physical examination. After examining the lesions, your physician may culture the wounds (take a sample of the drainage of the wound, allow it to grow in the laboratory, and identify specific bacteria) to help verify the diagnosis and to help in selecting the best treatment.

Treatment for folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles

Specific treatment for folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles will be determined by your physician based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • Extent of the condition
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the condition
  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Topical antibiotics (for folliculitis)
  • For carbuncles and boils, a warm compress may be used to help promote drainage of the lesion
  • Oral or intravenous (IV) antibiotics (to treat the infection)
  • Possible removal of the boils and carbuncles

Carbuncles heal more slowly than a single boil. Large boils may need to be drained by a health care provider if it lasts longer than 2 weeks, recurs, appears on the spine or middle of the face, or is accompanied by a fever or other symptoms.

Keeping the skin clean helps to prevent these conditions from occurring and is essential for healing. Scrub your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20-30 seconds after touching a boil and do not re-use or share washcloths or towels. Change the dressings often and place the dressings in a bag that can be tightly closed and thrown out.

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