Also known as abscesses, carbuncles or furuncles, these collections of pus form as a result of a cut or break in the skin, which leads to bacterial infection. They are characterized as a red, tender area with a painful, pus-filled center that can open spontaneously or by surgical incision. Common causes include a minor injury or break in the skin, an “infected” hair follicle, a ruptured cyst, or any means by which bacteria enter the skin and subcutaneous tissue. They may grow quickly and are usually painful until the pus is drained.

Boils tend to occur on skin surfaces that have hair or sweat glands and are exposed to friction, typically on the face, neck, armpits or buttocks. These skin folds have increased bacteria, and thus are at higher risk.

The most common bacteria involved is staphylococcus, include methicillin-resistant staph aureus (MRSA).

Types and Causes of Boils/Abscesses

Furuncle or Carbuncle. A furuncle is an individual boil; carbuncles are deep clusters of boils that most often form on the back of the neck, shoulders or thighs.

Pilonidal Cyst. This is a chronic condition that develops over the coccyx (tail bone) in which an implanted hair follicle leads to a cyst formation which can develop into an abscess and eventually channels (or sinus tract) under the skin.

Hidredenitis Suppurativa. This disease causes multiple abscesses that form from blocked sweat glands in the armpits or groin areas.

Nodulocystic Acne. In patients with severe acne, abscesses can develop as pus collections build up under the skin and cannot escape.

The most important aspect of treatment is drainage of the pus. Abscesses may rupture spontaneously, especially with warm compresses. If not, an incision and drainage (I and D or lancing) can be performed by a medical professional. Antibiotics may also be given as part of therapy. Treating the underlying disease (i.e. acne or hidradenitis suppurtiva) is important to prevent future abscesses.