Save your skin from boils

PUNCH Newspaper

The human skin is the largest organ in the body, as it covers the skeleton. The skeleton, in turn, encases the internal organs, shielding them from harm. Yet, many of us are so unduly familiar with our skin to the point that we leave it to cater for itself.

Physicians say while many systemic factors such as diabetes, obesity, and hematologic (blood) disorders could lower an individual’s resistance to opportunistic infections, the truth is that, generally, when you place your skin at the mercy of the weather, a lot of harm — by way of infections — can happen to it, and they include developing a rash of boils.

Boil complication

Family physician, Dr. Damilare Okikiolu, explains, “A boil, medically called a furuncle, is a deep infection in the hair follicles (folliculitis). It is most commonly caused by infection by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. It usually results in a painful, swollen area on the skin caused by an accumulation of pus and dead tissue.”

Noting that a boil can become complicated, he says, “The most common complications of boils are scarring and infection or abscess of the skin and areas of the body, depending on the location and severity.”

The physician notes that the infection may also spread to the bloodstream, leading to blood poisoning (sepsis). “When it gets to that level, it becomes life-threatening,” Okikiolu warns.

Physicians say typically, boil starts in a hair follicle or the oil gland, and it can also be referred to as a “skin abscess,” localised deep in the skin. They also note that it can be as small as a pea or as large as a golf ball and can develop on any part of the body.

Experts claim that on its own, boil is not contagious. However, they warn, until it drains and heals, an active skin boil is contagious. “The infection can spread to other parts of the victim’s body or to other people through skin-to-skin contact or through sharing of personal items,” they enthuse.

According to the online portal,, a boil generally starts as a reddened, tender area. “Over time, the area becomes firm and hard. Eventually, the centre of the abscess softens and becomes filled with infection-fighting white blood cells that the body sends via the bloodstream to eradicate the infection.

“This collection of white blood cells, bacteria, and proteins is known as pus. Finally, the pus ‘forms a head,’ which can be surgically opened or spontaneously drain out through the surface of the skin.”

See the doctor

Doctors say boil can crop up in any area of the body, especially on the neck, eyelids (sty) armpits, shoulders, and buttocks.

Generally, doctors say, most boils burst and heal by themselves without the need for medical attention. However, they warn, you should visit the hospital if a boil takes residence in the middle of your face, near your anus, and on your nose or spine.

Again, they warn, if a boil doesn’t heal within two weeks and also if it gets bigger and feels soft and spongy to touch, you should see a physician. “The softness and sponginess are indications that the boil may not burst or heal by itself,” Okikiolu enthuses.

In addition, Okikiolu advises, “Don’t hesitate to see the doctor if boils become recurrent, when you start running a fever as a result of the boil, when you develop swollen lymph nodes as a result and also when a second boil appears.”


Doctors say Staphylococcus aureus (staph bacteria) cause boil. These bacteria usually live harmlessly on the surface of the skin or in the lining of the nose. But they can get inside the skin through cuts and grazes and lead to infection.

Again, doctors say, those who live in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions are very prone to developing boils. Ditto those who are diabetic, as well as those who have problems with the immune system.

Worse still, physicians warn, poor nutrition and exposure to harsh chemicals that irritate the skin can lead to development of boils.

Treating a boil

And when you develop a boil, doctors say, the best way to prevent further infection is to clean and change the dressings often. You are also advised to wash your hands very well after touching the boil, while you are not expected to re-use or share washcloths or towels.

Okikiolu adds, “Wash clothing, washcloths, towels, and sheets or other items that contact infected areas in very hot water; and discard used dressings efficiently so that fluid that oozes from the boil does not touch and contaminate anything else.”

Prevent boil

•Carefully wash clothes, bedding, and towels of a family member who is infected with boils

•Clean and treat minor skin wounds

•Practice good personal hygiene

•Stay as healthy as possible

•Antibacterial soaps

•Antiseptic (germ-killing) washes

•Keeping clean (such as thorough hand washing)

•Don’t share towels, clothes or bedding with anyone who has a boil

•Avoid squeezing a boil, as this may spread the infection

•Avoid sitting down for extended periods of time. Boils that form between the buttocks, also known as “pilonidal cysts”, usually develop as a result of direct pressure caused by sitting down for long periods of time. They are common in truck drivers and people who have recently traveled on a long flight. If possible, try to relieve the pressure by taking frequent breaks to stretch your legs.


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