Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
In this Article
- Boils facts
- What is a boil? What are the symptoms and signs of a boil?
- What causes boils to form?
- Who is most likely to get a boil?
- How are boils diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for a boil?
- When should I seek medical attention for a boil?
- What is the prognosis (outcome) for a boil?
- What can be done to prevent boils (abscesses)?
- Pictures of Boils - Slideshow
- Medical Illustrations of Boils Image Collection
- Adult Skin Problems - Slideshow
- Find a local Dermatologist in your town
When should I seek medical attention for a boil?
While boils typically resolve on their own and have an excellent prognosis, there are special situations in which medical care should be sought when boils develop. Rarely, boils may spread or persist, leading to more widespread infections.
Any boil or abscess in a patient with diabetes or a patient with an underlying illness that can be associated with a weakened immune system (such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.) should be evaluated by a health-care professional. Additionally, many medicines, especially prednisone, that suppress the immune system (the natural infection-fighting system of the body) can complicate what would be an otherwise simple boil. Those who are taking such medications should consult their health-care professional if they develop boils. (If you are not sure about your medications' effects on the immune system, your pharmacist may be able to explain to you which medicines to be concerned about.)
Any boil that is associated with a fever should receive medical attention. Increasing reddening of the nearby skin and/or formation of red streaks on the skin, the failure of a boil to "form a head," and the development of multiple boils are other symptoms that warrant a visit to a health-care professional.
A "pilonidal cyst," a boil that occurs between the buttocks, is a special case. These almost always require medical treatment, including drainage and packing (putting gauze in the opened abscess to assure it continues to drain). Finally, any painful boil that is not rapidly improving should be seen by a health-care professional.
What is the prognosis (outcome) for a boil?
The majority of boils in healthy people resolve on their own with home care (described above). The prognosis is also excellent for boils that are treated in the health-care setting by opening or lancing. Antibiotics may or may not be required after a boil has been lanced by a health-care professional. Complications of a boil are rare and are more likely to occur in people with suppressed immune systems. Complications include a worsening or spreading to adjacent areas of skin or soft tissue and very rarely, spread of the infection through the bloodstream to sites elsewhere in the body. Sometimes a boil may be caused by an organism typically associated with more serious infections, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), with a risk of spreading this infection to deeper tissues. Recurrence of the infection is another possible complication, which is more likely in certain types of boils. Recurrence is most common in hidradenitis suppurativa and may also occur in situations in which the cause of the boil or abscess is persistent, such as the clogging of oil ducts seen in cystic acne.
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