Boils and Abscesses: All-Natural Medic

Everyone has struggled with a boil or an abscess at some point in life. A boil or abscess is a type of skin infection that develops either in an oil gland or a hair follicle. It starts as a small, red, painful nodule (approximately half an inch in size) that forms under the skin.

Boils are smaller and superficial. Abscesses are larger and deeper than boils; they are filled with pus, warm to the touch, and accompanied by redness and pain in the adjoining area. If an infection that starts off as a boil under the skin spreads to the deeper skin tissues, it manifests itself in the form of an abscess.

Causes of Boils and Abscesses

Boils often occur on the neck, face, armpits, shoulders, buttocks, and eyes (sty). Boils can be very painful and sometimes may be accompanied by fever. If several boils occur together as a group, it is called a carbuncle and can be a sign of a more serious infection.

  • Most boils are caused by a type of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. Because the skin is our immune system’s first line of defense against bacteria and other foreign bodies, infections usually find their way into the body through a break in the skin.
  • In some cases, boils develop when the skin gets broken due to a small injury or an insect bite, which gives the bacteria easy entry to lodge under the skin.
    On the other hand, an abscess is similar to a pimple but larger and deeper under the skin.
  • Abscesses are caused by minor breaks and punctures of the skin, obstruction of sweat and oil glands, and inflammation of hair follicles.
  • The formation of pus is due to the body’s natural response to fight the infection. As the immune system is triggered with the onset of the bacteria, the body floods the infected area with white blood cells. The white blood cells are then localized and trapped along with the infecting bacteria and dead skin, forming the pus-filled boil.

Even though a boil or an abscess is a common occurrence and can affect any individual, certain people are more susceptible to these conditions.

Diseases, such as diabetes and kidney failure, as well as use of certain medications, such as cortisone and chemotherapy, often compromise the body’s immune system and diminish its efficacy in warding off these infections.

Signs and Symptoms of Boils and Abscesses

Common signs and symptoms of boils are:

  • Painful red bump
  • Swelling around the bump
  • An increase in the size of the bump
  • Accumulation of pus followed by the development of a yellow-white tip

In the case of skin abscess, the symptoms include:

  • The affected skin feels firm and spongy due to the thick membrane around it and the pus within.
  • It is usually painful.
  • The surrounding skin appears reddish.
  • Sometimes, you can even notice a pinpoint opening at the center, from where the pus might seep out.

Risk Factors Associated with Boils and Abscesses

Anyone can suffer from a boil or an abscess; however, there are certain factors that increase your risk. Such factors include:

  • Close with a person who has a staph infection
  • Diabetes
  • Skin problems (acne and eczema)
  • Poor hygiene
  • Poor nutrition
  • Compromised immunity
  • Exposure to harsh chemicals

According to a 2015 study published in the British Journal of General Practice, 10% of patients with a boil or an abscess often develop a repeat boil or abscess within a year. This can be due to obesity, diabetes, young age, smoking, and prescribed antibiotics.

When to See a Doctor

Usually boils and abscesses don’t require immediate emergency attention.

However, it is advisable to consult your doctor in the event that the pain and the pus don’t subside within a week or are accompanied by fever, swollen lymph nodes, increased pain and swelling, a persistent boil that keeps returning, or the appearance of more boils.

Also, have your boils checked by your doctor if you are diabetic, have immune system related problems, or are on immunosuppressants or chemotherapy.

In most cases, boils and abscesses can be managed at home quite promptly and with considerable ease. The trick is to soften the boil or the abscess such that a pustule develops on it, after which it can be meticulously lanced.

Handle the area hygienically to avoid further infection, which may spread if the discharge from the wound is not cleaned efficiently.

In the case of larger boils that usually contain several pockets of pus, it is recommended that professional help is sought for draining the infection. You should not cut or puncture your own boils as this can cause further damage.

Alternative Ways to Deal with Boils and Abscesses

Here are some natural home remedies for boils and abscesses.

1. Warm Washcloth Compress

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, applying heat in the form of a warm compress is the best way to treat boils at home.

A warm compress not only soothes the pain but also accelerates the healing process by softening the crusty skin layer of the boil, enabling the pus to travel to the surface and eventually drain the boil bursts after repeated soakings. The whole process usually takes 10 days.

Simple and efficient without any side effects, warm compress is perhaps the easiest remedy to follow. Plus, it is excellent for relieving the pain, swelling, and redness. It also stimulates blood circulation in the affected area, thereby increasing the number of white blood cells and antibodies to fight the infection.

  • Dip a clean washcloth in warm water, wring out the excess water, and place the cloth over the boil for 10 minutes. You can also use warm salt water as salt acts as a disinfectant. Make sure the compress is wet and warm. Exert slight pressure on the boil when it forms a protruding head so that it will rupture with repeated soaking. Repeat the process 3–4 times a day until the boil heals.
  • A warm shower can also prove useful in delivering the desired effect.

2. Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiseptic properties that make it an important remedy for the treatment of skin problems like boils. Its antibacterial property can be attributed to the presence of compounds called terpenes.

Tea tree oil is also effective as a natural toner to rid the skin of excess oil, thereby preventing acne breakouts.

A 2006 study was published in Clinical Microbiology Reviews wherein researchers further advocate the long-held belief that tea tree oil has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.

  1. Mix 5 drops of tea tree oil to 1 teaspoon of olive or coconut oil. Dip a clean cotton swab into the diluted oil and gently dab it directly on the boil. You do not need to rinse off the oil.
  2. Do this a few times a day for several days until the boil disappears.
Note: Do not apply tea tree oil directly on your skin as it may irritate your skin. Perform a patch test before using this remedy to rule out the possibility of tea tree oil causing skin irritation. Do not take tea tree oil internally. The preferred concentration of tea tree oil for the treatment of boils should not be more than 5% dilution.

3. Turmeric

Turmeric is widely regarded as a panacea for various health troubles and is aptly referred to as ‘’holy powder’’ in India. Eastern medicine has found much use of it in the treatment of a plethora of diseases, including skin problems.

Being a natural blood purifier and due to its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric works wonders in the treatment of boils.

Furthermore, it is also known to boost the immune system by increasing blood circulation to the infected area. This essentially means that an increased number of white blood cells are transmitted to the infected area via the bloodstream in order to combat the problem from within.

Much of turmeric’s healing properties can be attributed to its active compound called curcumin.

A review article published in the journal Phytotherapy Research in 2016 concluded that there is early evidence that suggests that products and supplements from turmeric may provide therapeutic benefits for skin problems, either when ingested or applied topically.

Both external application and consumption of turmeric help in the treatment of boils and carbuncles. External application of turmeric to the boils dries the boils within 3 to 4 days, alleviates the pain, and prevents the recurrence of boils.

  • Boil 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder in 1 glass of milk or water. Drink this 3 times a day for 4–5 days. This will help heal the infection internally.
  • Also, you can grind together equal amounts of fresh ginger and turmeric, apply the powder onto the boil, and cover the area with a clean cloth. Leave it for a few hours. Rinse the area and reapply the paste 3–4 times a day for several days.

4. Indian Lilac (Neem)

The various medicinal properties of neem help treat boils and many other types of skin infections.

It exhibits antibacterial properties, which means it can help fight the bacteria responsible for boils and abscesses.

A 2014 study published in the European Journal of Dentistry reports that Indian lilac has considerable antimicrobial activity against S. mutans, E. faecalis, and S. aureus.

Indian lilac also has anti-inflammatory properties that soothe the inflammation and pain associated with boils as well as minimize the spread of infection.

  • Grind a handful of neem leaves to get a paste. Apply the paste on the affected area 3–4 times a day until the boil heals.
  • Alternatively, you could boil a handful of neem leaves in 4 cups of water until the quantity of water reduces to one-third. Use this water to rinse the affected area a few times a day.
  • Another option is to apply a few drops of neem oil (the one extracted from the seed is more effective) directly on the affected skin 3–4 times a day. Wash your hands thoroughly after the application. If you have sensitive skin, mix a few drops of neem oil in 1 tablespoon of coconut oil and then apply the mixture on the boil.

5. Castor Oil

Castor seed oil has been part of traditional medicine both in the West and in the East. In the Ayurvedic system of medicine, it has been used for the treatment of skin problems, infections, boils, and carbuncles.

Castor oil is rich in ricinoleic acid, which has potent antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties. This has been reported in a 2016 study published in Current Medicinal Chemistry.

When applied externally to the boil, it draws out the pus from the boil and relieves the pain.

  1. Dab a small amount of castor oil on a cotton ball.
  2. Apply it on the affected area.
  3. Repeat this several times daily until the boil disappears.

6. Maintain Hygiene

Even though the boil itself is not contagious, the bacteria that cause it and are present in the pus within it are. Thus, if the boil is not completely drained of the pus, the infection may spread to other parts of the body or to other people through skin-to-skin .

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, proper hygiene is paramount when dealing with boils and abscesses.

Try to keep the area clean, and do not make the mistake of touching or rubbing the boil as it can increase the risk of infection.

When suffering from boils, you must religiously wash your hands every chance you get. Wash your hands with soap and running water for 10-15 seconds, especially before and after touching/dressing an infected area and before handling or eating food.

Also, wash your hands before and after applying medicines and remedies to the infection.

Always try to keep the affected area covered as much as possible. Especially if the boil bursts, cover it with a sterile bandage or gauze. This simple step will help prevent infection and aid in the healing process.

7. Epsom Salt

It is important to bear in mind that the use of Epsom salt in the treatment of boils is largely anecdotal and is not supported by any scientific study proving its efficacy. Nevertheless, it was found to be highly beneficial by many users in providing respite from boils and abscesses.

Fix up a bath or a compress using warm water and Epsom salt to reap its pharmacological benefits. Not only does it relax and rejuvenate the skin, but it also helps to bring the boil to a head, making it easier to draw out the pus.

  1. Dissolve ¼ cup of Epsom salt in 2 cups of warm water.
  2. Dip a clean washcloth in the solution and place it on your boil.
  3. Leave it on for 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Repeat a few times daily until the boil begins to drain.

Additional Tips

  • To minimize the recurrence of boils, strengthen your immune system.
  • Avoid eating sugar-rich foods as they raise your blood glucose levels and increase the risk of developing boils.
  • Regularly sanitize all the washcloths and towels used for making warm compresses.
  • Do not squeeze or pick boils.
  • Avoid sharing personal items, such as towels, sheets, razors, clothing, and athletic equipment with others.
  • Drainage of boils or abscesses is a clinical task and should only be performed by a doctor or trained nurse or health worker.
  • Regularly change washcloths and towels used for bathing.
  • Do not squeeze or pick boils.
  • Avoid using antiperspirants because they block the sweat glands, which can cause boils to develop.

Resources:

  1. Boils, Abscess & Cellulitis – HealthyChildren.org. .
  2. Boils and Carbuncles – Harvard Health. .
  3. Baiu, I. (2018, April 03). Skin Abscess. Retrieved from .
  4. Shallcross LJ, Hayward AC, Johnson AM, Petersen I. The British Journal of General Practice. . Published October 2015.
  5. Abscess. NHS Choices. . Published July 19, 2016.
  6. Dermatologists share tips to treat boils and styes. Employment and benefits | American Academy of Dermatology. .
  7. Carson CF, Hammer KA, Riley TV. Current neurology and neuroscience reports. . Published January 2006.
  8. Moghadamtousi SZ, Kadir HA, Hassandarvish P, Tajik H, Abubakar S, Zandi K. BioMed Research International. . Published 2014.
  9. Vaughn AR, Branum A, Sivamani RK. Effects of Turmeric (Curcuma longa) on Skin Health: A Systematic Review of the Clinical Evidence. Current neurology and neuroscience reports. . Published August 2016.
  10. Tabassum N, Hamdani M. Current neurology and neuroscience reports. . Published 2014.
  11. Mishra J, Dash AK, Dash DDK. NATURE’S DRUG STORE: ‘THE FREE TREE OF INDIA.’ World Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. . Published October 23, 2013.
  12. Mistry KS, Sanghvi Z, Parmar G, Shah S. European Journal of Dentistry. . Published 2014.
  13. Pabiś S, Kula J. Synthesis and Bioactivity of (R)-Ricinoleic Acid Derivatives: A Review. Current medicinal chemistry. .

View Comments

  • I have a boil on the side of my forehead in the temple very strange place to be anyway I am going to try apple cider vinegar and honey and if that doesn't work I'll use a hot cloth. Has anybody ever heard of one being there or maybe it isn't a boil

  • Hydradenitis Supperativa. .. look it up.. its painful.. and boils constantly come and go. My daughter had it...

  • This really works. Quarter an onion, take 1 quarter of it and put in toaster oven for a few minutes to cook slightly take a couple of layers of it, dab a 1/4 tsp honey on the boil, put the onion over it, a layer of sterile gauze, tape and leave overnight. You will notice immediate results, repeat if necessary.

  • I had one on my great toe when I was a child. It was huge and very painful making me unable to wear a shoe on that foot. My Mom lanced the top will a sterile needle. The core was very defined. She took a piece of thread folded it in half then laid the thread on my toe with one piece sideof thread
    on each side of the core. Gently began twist the tread until it became tight around the core. After it was tight against the core she just pulled her hands apart causing the thread to pull upward and the entire core came out that about half inch long and and the core was half inch long and the size of a pencil in diameter. It happened so quick there was no pain just IMMEDIATE RELIEF.

  • Buy CLOVE soak 8 pieces in water 30 mins drink a little and also apply to the boil. Do not squeeze them. Clove is an antiseptic. Heal it from the inside and out. Also good for mouth ulcers.

  • please try this updated solutions for boils,(my boiled bursted within 24hrs)

    please cut a thick slice of onion,and remove few center rings of the onion slice,forming a small empty space (or a cavity),now place this modified onion slice over the boil,and since the center space is open u can add or the following ingredients in the to fill up the space..

    1)add castor oil to cotton ball and place it in the center of the empty space of the onion.then wrap the whole onion with a thin polythene or aluminium foil,so that the heat is trapped and it fastens the process of bring the puss to the core,u can use bandage or gauze..

    2)add 1-2 garlic cloves or crushed paste of garlic cloves or 2-3 heated garlic cloves (depending upon the heat u can handle) and place it in the center of the empty space of the onion.then wrap the whole onion with a thin polythene or aluminium foil,so that the heat is trapped and it fastens the process of bring the puss to the core,u can use bandage or gauze..

    3)make a paste of milk cream,vinegar and turmeric,place it in the center of the empty space of the onion.then wrap the whole onion with a thin polythene or aluminium foil,so that the heat is trapped and it fastens the process of bring the puss to the core,u can use bandage or gauze..

    4)make a paste of Indian Lilac or Neem leaves(few),place it in the center of the empty space of the onion.then wrap the whole onion with a thin polythene or aluminium foil,so that the heat is trapped and it fastens the process of bring the puss to the core,u can use bandage or gauze..

    5)make a paste of turmeric powder by adding few drops of warm water(add curd to the paste for enhanced result),place it in the center of the empty space of the onion.then wrap the whole onion with a thin polythene or aluminium foil,so that the heat is trapped and it fastens the process of bring the puss to the core,u can use bandage or gauze..

    6)add crushed potatoes along with its juice and make a paste,place it in the center of the empty space of the onion.then wrap the whole onion with a thin polythene or aluminium foil,so that the heat is trapped and it fastens the process of bring the puss to the core,u can use bandage or gauze..

    the use of onion will instantly reduce the pain and you will feel very comfortable through this treatment,change the onion and your choice of the above ingredients every 4 hours,

    my personal experience:-
    my boil was on the waist line,just below my belly button,i used the second method,and the puss flushed out within 24 hours,the outer onion rings traps the heat and make to puss to reach the surface,adding ingredients,and use of polythene or aluminium foils speeds up the process to a great extent,

    plz post your results,i will be more than happy to see few benefiting from my experiment.thanks

  • Egg shells/ n a slice of potato also help to bring boils to a head quickly...but of course antibiotics works faster anyday...

  • I just applied onion on the boil and I'm surprised the pain has gone and the size of the boil is reduced. Thank you so much

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Published by
Rosalind Jordan, FNP-C

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