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.
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.
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.
Common signs and symptoms of boils are:
In the case of skin abscess, the symptoms include:
Anyone can suffer from a boil or an abscess; however, there are certain factors that increase your risk. Such factors include:
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.
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.
Here are some natural home remedies for boils and abscesses.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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