Boils are infected, pus-filled swellings in the skin. Most of the times we can find such boils in the moist areas like the armpits and also on the back of the neck. Such infections generally start as tender red colored swellings, and with time the area becomes firm and hard.

In due course, the center of the abscess softens and becomes filled with pus forming a head. This can be either surgically opened or spontaneously drain out through the surface of the skin.

Boils are of different kinds

A carbuncle is formed when several boils merge to form a single deep abscess with several heads or drainage points.

A furuncle can have one or more openings onto the skin and may be associated with a fever or chills.

A Cystic acne is formed when oil ducts become clogged and infected. Such acne affects deeper skin tissue and is mostly seen on the face and typically occurs in the teenage years.

Hidradenitis suppurativa is a condition in which there are multiple abscesses that form under the armpits and often in the groin area. This form of skin infection is difficult to treat with antibiotics alone and typically requires a surgical procedure.

Pilonidal cyst is a unique kind of abscess that occurs in the crease of the buttocks. Pilonidal cysts often begin as tiny areas of infection in the base of the area of skin from which hair grows (the hair follicle). With irritation from direct pressure, over time the inflamed area enlarges to become a firm, painful, tender nodule making it difficult to sit without discomfort. These frequently form after long trips that involve prolonged sitting.

Most simple boils can be treated at home

The primary treatment for most boils is heat application, usually with hot soaks or hot packs. Heat application increases the circulation to the area and allows the body to better fight off the infection by bringing antibodies and white blood cells to the site of infection. As long as the boil is small and firm, opening the area and draining the boil is not helpful, even if the area is painful. However, once the boil becomes soft or "forms a head", it can be ready to drain. Most small boils, such as those that form around hairs, drain on their own with soaking. On occasion, and especially with larger boils, the larger boil will need to be drained or "lanced" by a health-care practitioner. Frequently, these larger boils contain several pockets of pus that must be opened and drained.

Antibiotics are often used to eliminate the accompanying bacterial infection. Especially if there is an infection of the surrounding skin, the doctor often prescribes antibiotics. However, antibiotics are not needed in every situation. In fact, antibiotics have difficulty penetrating the outer wall of an abscess well and often will not cure an abscess without additional surgical drainage.

Measures you can take to prevent boils from forming

The regular use of antibacterial soaps can help to prevent bacteria from building up on the skin. This can reduce the chance for the hair follicles to become infected and prevent the formation of boils. In some situations, your health-care practitioner may recommend special cleansers to reduce the bacteria on the skin. When the hair follicles on the back of the arms or around the thighs are continually inflamed, regular use of an abrasive brush (loofah brush) in the shower can be used break up oil plugs and build up around hair follicles.
Pilonidal cysts can be prevented by avoiding continued direct pressure or irritation of the buttock area when a local hair follicle becomes inflamed. At that point, regular soap and hot water cleaning and drying can be helpful. For acne antibiotics may be required on a long-term basis to prevent recurrent abscess formation. As mentioned above, surgical resection of sweat glands in the involved skin may be necessary.