Diagnosis

Your doctor will likely be able to diagnose a boil or carbuncle simply by looking at it. He or she might suggest sending a sample of the pus to a lab for testing. This may be useful if you have recurring infections or an infection that hasn't responded to standard treatment.

Many varieties of the bacteria that cause boils have become resistant to certain types of antibiotics. So lab testing can help determine what type of antibiotic would work best in your situation.

Treatment

You can generally treat small boils at home by applying warm compresses to relieve pain and promote natural drainage.

For larger boils and carbuncles, treatment may include:

  • Incision and drainage. Your doctor may drain a large boil or carbuncle by making a small incision in the tip. Deep infections that can't be completely drained may be packed with sterile gauze to help soak up and remove additional pus.
  • Antibiotics. Sometimes your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help heal severe or recurrent infections.

Lifestyle and home remedies

For small boils, these measures may help the infection heal more quickly and prevent it from spreading

  • Warm compresses. Apply a warm washcloth or compress to the affected area several times a day. This helps the boil rupture and drain more quickly.
  • Never squeeze or lance a boil yourself. This can spread the infection.
  • Prevent contamination. Wash your hands thoroughly after treating a boil. Also, launder clothing, towels or compresses that have touched the infected area, especially if you have recurrent boils or carbuncles.

Preparing for your appointment

You're likely to see your family doctor or a general practitioner first. He or she may refer you to a specialist in skin diseases (dermatologist) or infectious diseases.

What you can do

List all your signs and symptoms and when they first occurred. Record how long the lesions lasted and if any recurred. Make a list of all medications — including vitamins, herbs and over-the-counter drugs — that you're taking. Even better, take the original bottles and a list of the dosages and directions.

For boils and carbuncles, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:

  • Are tests needed to confirm the diagnosis?
  • What is the best course of action?
  • Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing?
  • Can I wait to see if the condition goes away on its own?
  • What can I do to prevent the infection from spreading?
  • What skin care routine do you recommend while the condition heals?

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:

  • What did the boil look like when it first started?
  • Are your symptoms painful?
  • Have you had a boil or carbuncle before?
  • Are you having fever or chills?
  • Do you have artificial heart valves, joints or other implanted devices?