A boil is skin abscess that can appear nearly anywhere on the body. Boils are caused by skin infections and can be related to diabetes, poor hygiene, poor nutrition or exposure to irritants. The infection begins under the skin and may start out as a reddened area. As the condition progresses, a small lump may form. In some cases, a boil can be large. Though small boils may go away without treatment, large boils may need medical attention. Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat the underlying infection but will not heal a boil.
Treatment for boils typically includes waiting until the abscess is soft and full of white blood cells. When the area is soft, a physician may lance the boil to drain the pus and then pack it with gauze until it heals. The area needs to be thoroughly cleaned and treated with an antibiotic ointment several times a day to prevent further infection. Some boils may need ongoing medical care until they are completely healed. When a boil is large, a physician may watch it to ensure the the infection is healing. Many boils, especially small ones, will drain without any medical intervention. When they begin to drain, it is important to keep them clean to avoid transferring the bacteria to another part of the body.
The first question many people have when they get a boil is, “Are my boils contagious?” Boils themselves are not contagious. However, the bacteria that led to the formation of the boil is contagious. A boil that has been lanced should be covered with gauze to prevent anyone else coming in contact with the bacteria and possibly getting a boil themselves.
It is important to take steps to minimize the likelihood of someone else contracting the bacteria that caused your boil. In addition to keeping dressing over the area, wash all of your clothes and bedding separately from the rest of your family’s laundry. Also, be sure to keep your body clean by bathing regularly. It is easier for boils to spread on the same person than it is for them to pass to someone else through contact.