What Causes Boils?

Boils are painful skin infections or abscesses that can occur in certain common locations around the body. Often confused with pimples, these infections are much larger, last longer and are significantly more painful than typical acne. Boils begin as tender red bumps which lead to the misconception that they’re large pimples, but develop over a period of four to seven days into painful, large bumps that fill with puss and soften. Thankfully, most boils resolve themselves with simple home remedies like heat compresses. Knowing what causes boils is imperative to keeping these painful bumps at bay and avoiding them in the future wherever possible.

One of the most common causes for boil formation is an ingrown hair. Since boils are most common on the face, neck, buttocks, armpits or shoulders, most of these areas are associated with shaving, and can often cause ingrown hairs that then become infected. Simply nicking the skin can cause a skin abscess or boil to form.

Infected or clogged sweat glands often typically lead to boil formation. Regular exercise can cause sweat glands to become clogged with dirt which may allow a boil to form. An infected cut, scrape or splinter can also contribute to the formation of a boil around the wound, which can be especially painful to the touch and difficult to treat.

Since all boils are a result of a skin infection or abscess, bacteria is the sole culprit responsible for them. Bacteria come in many varieties, but the bacterium typically responsible for the formation of a boil is staphylococcus – or a staph infection. This particular bacterium is often present on normal skin but is capable of entering the body through a hair follicle or through tiny breaks in the skin like an exposed abrasion. For particularly large or painful boils, a doctor may take a sample of the pus from inside of it upon lancing the boil in order to identify the specific type of bacteria in order to prescribe the most effective antibiotic.

Boils can also be caused by a variety of factors like poor dietary habits, a lack of proper hygiene or other problems involving the body’s natural immune system. Avoiding boils can be as simple as maintaining proper hygiene, especially after regular exercise. Clogged pores are one of the leading causes of boils, so caring for your skin properly is the key to avoiding them. Keeping sensitive areas clean and unclogged can reduce the appearance of boils, and make their treatments less severe. Eating a healthy and balanced diet combined with proper hygiene is imperative to keeping the immune system healthy, which enables skin infections to be fought off effectively and can prevent boils from occurring.

Exposure to harsh chemicals can also significantly irritate the skin and cause boils to form. It is imperative to thoroughly wash any skin that is exposed to chemicals over a prolonged period of time. Wearing protective gloves or other gear wherever possible can limit the skin’s exposure, and thorough cleaning after use can cut down on the risks of a boil forming from the exposure.

Certain health problems like diabetes or other immune system disorders can make certain people more susceptible to forming boils, and should be discussed with a medical professional. A skin infection like a boil when combined with another health concern like diabetes can cause significant health problems and should always be treated professionally.

While most boils go away on their own after a couple weeks, there are certain circumstances that require immediate medical attention so the boil can be treated professionally. If the boil is accompanied by a fever, it can indicate that the infection is particularly severe, and you should seek medical help. Professional treatment should also be consulted when a boil is combined with swollen lymph nodes, sever pain or if the boil is not draining on its own. Trying to lance or puncture the boil at home with a needle can make the infection worse, not better. Boils typically drain on their own when exposed to hot compresses or warm water. For boils that refuse to drain and are causing significant discomfort, professional help should be acquired. Boils are uncomfortable skin infections that occur much more commonly than you may think, but are often misdiagnosed at home. By understanding the causes of boils clearly, they are easier to avoid and treat when they do appear.