Carbuncle

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Overview

A boil (furuncle) is a pus-filled bump in the skin that is caused by a bacterial infection. It’s a bit like a very big yellow pimple, but it’s deeper in the skin and hurts a lot more.


Boils develop when a hair follicle and the surrounding tissue become infected. Hair follicles consist of one hair, the root of the hair, a sebaceous gland and a small muscle that can pull the hair up, making it stand on end. Hair follicle inflammations are sometimes also referred to as “deep folliculitis” or “perifolliculitis.”


The infection causes the skin tissue inside the boil to die, creating a pus-filled hollow space (an abscess). Skin abscesses can develop from boils, but also from other things like infected insect bites or injections with dirty needles. If several boils merge into a larger bump, it’s called a carbuncle.


Sometimes boils go away again on their own, without causing any problems. But it’s often a good idea to get medical treatment. This can help make boils go away quicker, relieve the pain and prevent complications.

Symptoms

The boils that collect to form carbuncles usually start as red, painful bumps. The carbuncle fills with pus and develops white or yellow tips that weep, ooze, or crust. Over a period of several days, many untreated carbuncles rupture, discharging a creamy white or pink fluid.Boils are painful swollen bumps, ranging from roughly the size of a cherry stone to that of a walnut. They feel warm and look red, and yellowish pus may show through the skin. If a cluster of boils (a carbuncle) develops, the infection might cause a fever too, making you feel weak and tired.


Boils mainly occur on the face and neck, including the back of the neck. But they sometimes also develop in the armpits, groin, genital area, on the back, bottom or thighs.

Causes

Most carbuncles are caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus (S aureus). A carbuncle is a cluster of several skin boils (furuncles). The infected mass is filled with fluid, pus, and dead tissue. Fluid may drain out of the carbuncle, but sometimes the mass is so deep that it cannot drain on its own.

Risk factors

Although anyone — including otherwise healthy people — can develop boils or carbuncles, the following factors can increase your risk:


Close contact with a person who has a staph infection. You're more likely to develop an infection if you live with someone who has a boil or carbuncle.

Diabetes. This disease can make it more difficult for your body to fight infection, including bacterial infections of your skin.

Other skin conditions. Because they damage your skin's protective barrier, skin problems, such as acne and eczema, make you more susceptible to boils and carbuncles.

Compromised immunity. If your immune system is weakened for any reason, you're more susceptible to boils and carbuncles.


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Complications

Sometimes, carbuncles are caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, and require treatment with potent prescription antibiotics if the lesions are not drained properly.

In rare cases, bacteria from a carbuncle can escape into the bloodstream and cause serious complications, including sepsis and infections in other parts of the body such as the lung, bones, joints, heart, blood, and central nervous system.

Sepsis is an overwhelming infection of the body that is a medical emergency and can be fatal if left untreated. Symptoms include chills, a spiking fever, rapid heart rate, and a feeling of being extremely ill.

Prevention

A boil or carbuncle can happen despite the best hygiene. However, you can prevent boils if you:


Avoid close contact with someone who has a staph infection, boil or carbuncle.

Wash your hands frequently with antibacterial soaps and gels, which can help prevent the spread of bacteria.

Bathe regularly with soap.

Don’t share or reuse washcloths, towels and sheets.