Hopkins ABX Guide

Furuncles and Carbuncles

What are Furuncles and Carbuncles?

Furuncles and carbuncles are a very common skin infection. Furuncle is a medical term for boil, a red pus-filled and painful lump that develops when hair follicle gets infected by bacteria. Carbuncle refers to a cluster of furuncles. It is caused by bacterial infection of the hair follicle as well but the infection tends to be deeper and more severe.

Risk Factors for Furuncles and Carbuncles

Anyone can develop furuncles and carbuncles including perfectly healthy individuals. However, they are more likely to affect individuals with a compromised immune system, certain underlying medical conditions such as diabetes and skin problems such as acne and dermatitis. The risk is also higher in people who were in direct contact with individuals infected with Staphylococcus aureus (staph).

Sings and Symptoms

Boil typically starts as red painful lump resembling a huge acne lesion. It soon grows larger, more painful and fills with pus. Eventually, a white yellowish tip occurs on the top. Most boils sooner or later rupture and heal on their own.

Furuncles sometimes occur in clusters which are called carbuncles. In addition to affecting a larger area, they also reach deeper into the skin and are often accompanied by fever and fatigue. In rare cases, bacteria from furuncles and carbuncles enter the bloodstream and cause potentially very dangerous complications including sepsis (blood poisoning).

Furuncles and carbuncles can develop anywhere but they most often occur on the face, neck, thighs, buttocks, armpits and sweating-prone areas. The majority of boils and clusters of boils are caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacterium, an opportunistic pathogen that is often found on the skin and in the nose.

Treatment of Furuncles and Carbuncles

Although they can look intimidating and be very painful, most furuncles don’t need medical treatment or antibiotic therapy. They are most often successfully treated at home with warm compresses that alleviate the pain and help induce pus drainage. However, boils that are extremely large (having a diameter over 2 inches), very painful or/and don’t rupture within two weeks should be examined by a doctor. The same counts for furuncles that are accompanied by fever and carbuncles.

Medical treatment of furuncles and carbuncles may involve making a small incision on the top to induce drainage or/and antibiotic therapy.