Skin abscesses result from the accumulation of pus in the hair follicles, skin tissue, or under the skin. When the pus-filled infection is confined to a single hair follicle and its surrounding tissue, it pops up in the form of a boil or furuncle.
However, when it spreads wider and deeper and join together under the skin, such that multiple tightly packed hair follicles get infected, the result is a cluster of furuncles collectively called a carbuncle.
Given that this is a more aggressive form of skin abscess that affects the deeper layers, carbuncles often lead to scarring as well!
What Causes Carbuncles?
Carbuncles are the manifestation of a bacterial infection and are typically filled with purulent exudate (pus).
Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes that inhabit the surface of the skin, throat, and nasal passage are most commonly responsible for this infection. The offending bacteria often lodge under the skin through a hair follicle or an injury-induced crack in the skin. However, sometimes there is no obvious point of entry.
Being highly contagious, the staph infection may spread to other parts of your body as well as to other people through skin-to-skin and the sharing of personal belongings.
Suppurative skin infections such as sycosis barbae, impetigo, and furunculosis are more common in patients who are colonized with Staphylococcus aureus, and there is evidence that boils and abscesses are associated with social deprivation, overcrowding, the use of communal facilities, obesity, diabetes, and impaired immunity.
How are Carbuncles Commonly Treated?
The first line of treatment for carbuncles involves a procedure called incision and drainage (I&D) to carefully extract the infected fluid or pus contained within. This helps dry out the abscess and allows it to heal from the inside out.
This extraction process requires a great deal of precision, and it’s best to let the professionals handle it, rather than meddle with it yourself. Pricking or squeezing the sore can go horribly wrong and can transfer the infected pus to other areas of the skin, thereby making your condition even worse.
In order to combat the underlying bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, the doctor will write down a prescription for standard antibiotics used for treating staph infections, such as dicloxacillin or cephalexin.
Simple Ways to Treat Carbuncles at Home
Here are 10 ways to get natural relief from carbuncles at home.
1. Use a Warm Compress
Applying heat in the form of a warm compress is the best way to treat boils, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Compresses are also effective in softening the crusty layer formed on top of the carbuncle. This allows the pus to rise to the surface and eventually cause the boil to burst, thereby making it more convenient to extract the pus out to get rid of the infection for good.
Furthermore, this form of gentle heat therapy provides respite from the constant pain, swelling, and redness that are symptomatic of this condition.
- Soak a cloth in warm water and squeeze out the excess water.
- Apply the warm cloth over the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Do this repeatedly throughout the day until the pus drains out.
- Clean the area thoroughly and apply a medicated ointment to prevent any further infection.
2. Practice Good Hygiene
Proper hygiene reduces your risk of developing a carbuncle and is essential when treating an existing cluster of boils.
Moreover, a sanitary lifestyle is perhaps the most important step for containing the spread of infection to other parts of the body and to other people.
- Wash your hands with mild soap before eating and after using the bathroom. Also, wash your hands before and after applying medicines and remedies to the infected skin.
- Take a shower daily to keep your skin free of bacteria. A bath is essential post-rigorous physical activity that leads to heavy perspiration such as a workout or swimming session.
- Wash your clothes, sheets, and towels regularly in hot water.
- When drying clothes and linens, be sure to set the temperature of your dryer to a high degree.
- Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces that you may touch, such as doorknobs, the toilet seat, and the bathtub.
- Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, sheets, razors, clothing, and athletic equipment with other people.
3. Apply Eucalyptus Oil
Due to its antibacterial properties, eucalyptus oil has been found to be effective against antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are often at the root of a carbuncle infection.
Besides combating the infection-causing bacteria at the core of this condition, this therapeutic potion also helps your skin heal well and fast.
- Mix 3 or 4 drops of eucalyptus oil with 1 teaspoon coconut oil or olive oil and apply this oil blend using a cotton ball on the affected area. Do not apply this on the face or eyelids or to babies.
- Repeat the application two to three times a day.
- Prepare a mixture of 3 or 4 drops of eucalyptus oil, 1 teaspoon of powdered slippery elm, and 1 tablespoon of water.
- Apply this paste on the affected area, let it dry, and then rinse it off.
- Repeat this application twice daily.
4. Treat with Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is another good remedy for a carbuncle. This natural antiseptic has strong antibacterial properties, which can help fight the root cause of the problem.
It also works as an anti-inflammatory to mitigate and manage the pain associated with carbuncles, making it an effective healing agent for a speedy recovery.
- Mix 3 or 4 drops of tea tree oil with 1 teaspoon of coconut or olive oil.
- Use a cotton ball to apply the oil blend on the cluster of boils two to three times per day.
- You do not need to rinse it off.
- Do this until the infection is completely gone.
- Mix 5 or 6 drops of tea tree oil into a bowl of warm water.
- Soak a washcloth in the solution.
- Use it as a compress on the affected area for about 10 minutes.
- Repeat this several times a day.
5. Use Onions for Fast Skin Healing
The multiple-layered onion contains within its folds significant antiseptic potential that can be used to address skin infections such as boils and carbuncles.
It uproots and eliminates the infection-causing microbes or bacteria thriving in your hair follicles.
The mechanism at work behind the topical application of onion is that it heats up the targeted skin, thereby stimulating blood flow directly to the boil. The increased blood supply makes the boil come to a head to facilitate easy drainage of the pus afterward.
- Slice a clean onion.
- Place it on the affected area.
- Hold it in place with a clean cloth cover.
- Replace the onion slice with a fresh one every 3 hours or so.
6. Castor Oil Promotes Recovery
Castor oil is another natural cure for carbuncles. It owes much of its effectiveness to a compound called ricinoleic acid. This star component works as a potent anti-inflammatory and also simultaneously exhibits considerable antibacterial action.
When it comes to treating boils through topical remedies, a little castor oil goes a long way. To optimize the skin-healing merits of this oil, apply small amounts directly to the boil at least three times a day until the boil subsides completely.
7. Turn to Turmeric for Natural Relief from Boils
Whether it is a single boil or a carbuncle, turmeric is highly beneficial in providing quick and natural relief.
Turmeric is loaded with antibacterial, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties that help expedite the healing process, alleviate symptomatic discomfort, and prevent further infection.
A 2014 study published in BioMed Research International highlights the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, the main compound of turmeric.
A natural blood purifier, immunity booster, and anti-inflammatory agent, turmeric has all the makings of a natural panacea that is readily available in most kitchens.
The skin-healing potential of turmeric when ingested or applied topically is particularly renowned and has been traditionally used to provide quick relief to various skin ailments including carbuncles.
For external use:
- Mix a ½ teaspoon of dry turmeric powder with 1 to 2 tablespoons of castor oil to make a paste.
- Apply this paste on the affected area with clean hands.
- Cover it with a gauze bandage.
- Reapply the paste and replace the bandage every 12 hours.
For oral use:
- Add a ½ to 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder to 1 glass of boiling milk and let it simmer for 5 minutes.
- Drink this tonic twice daily.
8. Neem (Indian Lilac) is Good for Your Skin
- Wash and grind a handful of neem leaves into a paste.
- Add a little turmeric powder to the paste.
- Apply this paste on the affected area, and leave it on for at least 30 minutes before rinsing it off.
- Do this a few times a day.
- Use a cotton swab to apply neem oil directly on the cluster of boils.
- Leave it on for 10 minutes, and then rinse it off.
- Repeat the application two to three times a day.
9. Apply Black Tea Compress for Pain Management
While it’s common knowledge that a warm compress goes a long way in treating boils and carbuncles, to maximize results, use a black tea compress instead of the regular one.
The tannins present in black tea possess anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce the pain and eradicate the infection.
- Soak a black tea bag in warm water for 10 minutes.
- Remove it from the water and allow it to cool.
- Gently apply the tea bag over the affected area for 10 minutes.
- Repeat the application several times a day for quick results.
10. Epsom Salt for Speedy Recovery
Epsom salt is also effective in the treatment of a carbuncle.
It helps bring the boils to a head due to its heating effect on the skin. This makes it far more convenient to extract the bacteria-carrying pus from the carbuncle, which is an essential pre-requisite for the skin healing to begin.
Being highly absorbent, Epsom salt helps draw out toxins and impurities from the skin as well.
- Dissolve ¼ cup of Epsom salt in 2 cups of warm water.
- Dip a clean washcloth in the solution.
- Place it over the affected area.
- Leave it on for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Repeat a few times daily until the boils begin to drain.
What are the Characteristic Features of a Carbuncle?
- The carbuncle starts off as a red painful nodule under the skin and gradually grows as it fills with pus, which is a mixture of white blood cells, bacteria, and dead skin cells.
- It can expand from the size of a lentil to a broad painful throbbing swollen nodule that often drains pus through multiple openings.
- The moist parts of the body or areas that are prone to sweating are particularly susceptible to this infection. This includes the back, shoulders, nape of the neck, thighs, and buttocks.
- When compared to single boils, carbuncles cause a deeper and more severe infection, as the infection usually extends to the subcutaneous fat.
- Carbuncles are more likely to leave a scar than furuncles or singular boils.
Carbuncles are often associated with the following symptomatic discomforts:
- Swelling in the surrounding tissue and lymph nodes
- Skin irritation
- Painful to touch
- Malaise or a general feeling of being unwell
What will Happen if I Do Nothing?
If the carbuncle is left unattended, it will typically grow in size over several days up to 3-10 centimeters or even more in severe cases.
After about a week or so, you will notice the appearance of various pus-filled lumps on the surface of the infected skin. Once the carbuncle has expanded to its maximum size, the boils will burst and the pus will seep out of the skin.
The ruptured abscess may sometimes form an ulcer on the skin surface and will begin to naturally heal once the pus has completely drained out.
You will experience a noticeable reduction in the degree of pain once the carbuncle has burst open, and the infection in the surrounding skin will gradually subside as the pus is cleared.
Because the damage done by carbuncles extends deeper than the surface layers of the skin, they are likely to leave behind a scar at the site of the boil.
One life-threatening complication that you must be wary of is sepsis, wherein the infection spreads deep enough to contaminate the bloodstream. As long as your skin is riddled with pus-filled boils, you must take necessary precautions to avoid risking the entry of staph bacteria into the blood.
In this rare but dangerous situation, the infection travels through the blood and can give rise to serious bone, brain, or other infections affecting various parts of the body.
How Do You Backent Carbuncles?
Carbuncles can take root despite the best of hygiene. However, there are certain preventive measures that can be adopted to avert the risk:
- Maintain a comfortable distance from people suffering from a staph infection, boil, or carbuncle.
- Keep your hands bacteria-free at all times by washing them frequently with antibacterial soaps and gels. Also, carry a pocket hand sanitizer when venturing out.
- Bathe regularly.
- Abstain from sharing or reusing your washcloths, towels, and sheets.
What are the Risk Factors for Carbuncles?
Males have a higher susceptibility to developing carbuncles than females.
Besides gender, the following factors can also increase one’s likelihood of developing an infected carbuncle:
- A recent incidence of folliculitis
- Constant friction from clothing
- Having hair pulled out
- Poor hygiene
- Poor nutrition
- Weak immunity
- Uncontrolled diabetes
When to Consult a Doctor
If preliminary care and treatment with home remedies fail to provide any substantial relief from a large boil or carbuncle even after a week, you should get it medically examined by your doctor.
People with diabetes must exercise greater precaution and get medical assistance even for relatively smaller boils as they are increasingly prone to developing serious infections.
The following conditions necessitate prompt medical attention:
- If an infant develops a boil or a carbuncle
- If the carbuncle is on the face, rectum, groin, or spine
- If the skin abscess is accompanied by fever or severe pain
- If the location of the carbuncle is such that it interferes with your movement
- If the infection causes swelling, red streaks, or other discoloration in the adjoining skin
The doctor will recommend the appropriate antibiotics for your case, keeping in mind the severity of the infection and other health determinants.
However, if you do not register any relief after 2 or 3 days of antibiotic treatment, it is important to revisit your doctor for a future course of remedial strategy.
How are Carbuncles Diagnosed?
If you have a stubborn boil or carbuncle that sticks around for longer than 2 weeks, it may be wise to get it checked by a professional.
Only a dermatologist with a trained eye will be able to tell for certain if the skin abscess is indeed a carbuncle or not, after closely examining the infected area.
If you are someone who is prone to such breakouts, the need for a thorough medical examination is all the more essential.
The doctor may order a few lab tests, which include blood and urine cultures, to rule out certain conditions such as diabetes and liver or kidney disease that make one more susceptible to such skin sores.
- Make sure to avoid sugary foods and beverages if you have a carbuncle because processed sugar and high fructose corn syrup suppress your white blood cell function. By avoiding processed sugar, your immune system can better fight the bacteria causing your carbuncles.
- Do not attempt to squeeze the boils, as the exuding pus can transfer the bacteria to other parts of the body as well as to items and people you come in with.
- Do not poke the boils with a needle or pin to relieve pressure as it can make the infection worse.
- Keep the infected area clean and covered with sterile dry bandages until the cluster of boils heals.
- If your boils burst, cover them with a sterile bandage or gauze to prevent transferring the infected pus to other areas of the skin. This protective layer will also shield the exposed wound from further damage during the healing process.
- Always wash your hands thoroughly before and after applying medicines and remedies to the infected area.
- Sometimes, you may have to take prescribed antibiotics to help heal severe or recurrent infections.
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