Boils in detail
Boils in detail
Information about treatments available if your child's boil gets worse; caring for your child with a boil at home and what is likely to happen if your child keeps getting boils.
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 family doctor
- signs of infection spread include a fever and 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)
- weakened defence system (immune deficiency)
- anaemia or iron deficiency
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 family doctor if:
- the boil does not form a head or point or does not get better within 2 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 family doctor urgently if:
- there is a sore or any redness near your child's eye
How can I care for my child with a boil at home?
You can treat most boils at home, especially if you notice them early.
Make a compress
To help the boil open up and drain, try applying a warm compress. You can make a compress by wetting a facecloth with warm (not hot) water and putting it on the boil for several minutes. Do this a few times a day. Always wash your hands before and after touching the boil.
Practice good hygiene to stop the boil spreading
Boils can spread very easily. If the boil opens on its own and drains, wipe away the pus or blood with a clean cotton ball soaked in antiseptic solution. Wash and dry the area well and then cover it with a plaster. This stops it from spreading and stops your child from scratching it. Wash your hands with soap and dry thoroughly before and after touching the boil.
Wash your child all over with warm soapy water or use an antiseptic solution such as Savlon or Dettol (follow the directions on the bottle for making the solution). Your child will need their own towel and facecloth. Wash these frequently in hot water along with any clothing worn close to the skin.
Don't squeeze the boil
Squeezing the boil into the surrounding skin can cause a much more serious infection and will be painful.
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 doctor.
Give pain relief if necessary
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.
What treatments are available if my child's boil gets worse?
- if there are several boils, or they are large and painful, your doctor will usually prescribe antibiotic medicine
- if your child needs to take antibiotics, follow your doctor's instructions and take them until they are finished, even if the boils have gone
Incision and drainage
- sometimes the antibiotics may not completely work, and the pus needs to be surgically drained from the boil - this is called incision and drainage
- your child may need to see a surgeon at the hospital for this procedure - a general anaesthetic is usually necessary because it is painful
- the surgeon will cut (incise) the abscess, remove the pus and put a sterile dressing over the cut to absorb any draining pus
- your child may need antibiotics through an intravenous drip (into a vein)
- after the operation, your child will not usually need to stay in hospital
- changing your child's dressings - an outreach or homecare nurse, or your family doctor's nurse may do this
- remember to keep the dressing dry
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 family doctor.
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 because a child carries a strain of bacteria that easily causes infection of any broken skin (minor cuts and scrapes). It is important to treat all household members with skin infection to stop the infection spreading.
Your family doctor may take a swab of the boil and may need to consider whether your child has an underlying medical condition.
Treatment is aimed at getting rid of bacteria on the skin. This may include strategies like:
- 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 (where the bacteria are often carried)
Other preventative measures to discuss with your doctor include:
- having dilute bleach baths twice a week - see Bleach bath instructions
- using an antiseptic wash in the shower when your child has cuts or scrapes
- using an alternative antibiotic for a longer course