Key points to remember about boils
- a boil is a tender red lump on the skin
- it is caused by an infection of the hair root or sweat pore
- most children with boils are otherwise healthy
- boils are not usually a serious problem
- there is a small chance of your child becoming sicker if the infection spreads – if this happens you should take your child to your GP (general practitioner)
- signs of infection spread include:
– a fever
– extending redness and increasing pain at the site of the boil
What are boils?
- a boil (also called a furuncle) is a tender, red lump on the skin
- boils are not usually a serious problem – the body's defences are usually able to get rid of the bacteria
- sometimes the boils may spread to other parts of the body; a group of boils close together is called a carbuncle
- large boils are sometimes called abscesses
- the most common places for boils to appear are on the face, neck, armpits, shoulders, and buttocks (bottom)
What causes boils?
Boils can develop when a hair root or sweat pore becomes infected with bacteria (usually Staphylococcus aureus).
What puts my child at risk of getting boils?
Anyone can develop a boil.
Most children with boils are otherwise healthy.
Some of the following problems can increase the risk of your child getting boils:
broken skin (which allows bacteria to enter)
eczema (see Eczema - Are there likely to be any complications?)
weakened defence system (immune deficiency)
- anaemia or iron deficiency
A variety of other factors have been suggested as increasing the risk of boils but these are not supported by any evidence.
Some medicines can reduce the body’s defence system against germs (bacteria). For this reason, it is important for you to be aware of the side effects of any medicine that your child is taking.
What are the signs and symptoms of boils?
- a hard red lump on your child’s skin
- increasing size and soreness of the lump
- development of a white or yellow centre in the lump, filled with pus, which may or may not burst
When should I seek help?
You should see your GP (general practitioner) if:
- the boil does not form a head or point or does not get better within two days
- your child is complaining of lots of pain or discomfort
- your child develops a temperature
- the boil has red streaks coming from it
- the boil is the size of a 10 cent coin or larger
- the boil keeps getting bigger
- there are several boils
- your child has diabetes or an immune problem
You should see your GP urgently if:
- there is any sore or redness near your child’s eye
What treatments are available if my child’s boil gets worse?
- your doctor may prescribe an anti-infective cream for you to put over the boil
- if there are several boils, or they are large and painful, your doctor will usually prescribe antibiotic medicine
- if antibiotic medicine is prescribed, give it to your child as recommended by your doctor; it is important to finish the full course of medical treatment, even if the boils have gone
- sometimes the antibiotics may not completely work, and incision (a cut) and drainage of the boil is required to release the pus
Incision and drainage
- your doctor may refer your child to a surgeon at the hospital to have this procedure performed – it is usually performed under general anaesthetic because it is painful
- the surgeon will lance (pierce) the abscess and remove the pus
- a sterile dressing will be placed over the cut to absorb any draining pus
your child may need antibiotics given through an intravenous drip (into a vein)
once the operation is finished, your child will usually not need to stay in hospital
- your child’s dressings may need changing by outreach / homecare nurses or your GP’s (general practitioner’s) nurse
- remember to keep the dressing dry
How can I care for my child with a boil at home?
- most boils, especially if noticed early, can be treated at home
- wash your child with warm soapy water or use an antiseptic solution such as Savlon or Dettol (follow the directions for making the solution on the bottle). You can also apply an antiseptic cream to the affected area
- if the boil bursts, wash and dry the area well and then cover it – this stops it from spreading and stops your child from scratching it
- your child must have their own towel and facecloth which must be washed frequently in hot water along with any clothing worn close to the skin
- do not squeeze the boil as it is painful and can force infection into the deeper tissues
- give your child paracetamol, if needed, to help with the soreness. You must follow the dosage instructions on the bottle. It is dangerous to give more than the recommended dose
Remember, you will need to keep an eye on the boil. If other boils appear or the boil gets bigger or more painful, you need to take your child to your GP (general practitioner). See When should I seek help?
Are there likely to be any complications of boils?
Normally, there are no problems.
There is a small chance of your child becoming sicker if the infection spreads. Signs include:
- a fever
- extending redness and increasing pain at the site of the boil
If this happens, seek advice from your GP (general practitioner).
What if my child keeps getting boils (recurrent boils)?
Sometimes children can suffer from recurrent boils, which can spread to other household members. This is usually due to the child carrying a strain of bacteria that easily causes infection of any broken skin (minor cuts and scrapes). It is important that all household members with skin infection are treated to stop the infection spreading.
Your GP (general practitioner) may take a swab of the boil and may need to consider whether your child has an underlying medical condition.
Treatment is aimed at ridding the skin of bacteria. This may include strategies such as:
- using an antiseptic wash for a week
- washing all your child’s towels and bedding in hot water
- applying an antibiotic cream to the nose (as that’s where the bacteria are often carried)
Other preventative measures to discuss with your doctor include:
- using antiseptic in the bath when your child has cuts or scapes
- using an alternative antibiotic for a longer course
- using an antiseptic cream on any minor cuts and scrapes
Where to go for more information about boils
© Paediatric Society of New Zealand and Starship Foundation 2005 – 2014
Printed on 09 March 2014. Content is regularly updated so please refer to www.kidshealth.org.nz for the most up-to-date version