Healthy Living

What is a Carbuncle?

What is a Carbuncle?

Carbuncle refers to a cluster of boils under the skin caused by the infection of hair follicles. The infected hair follicles form a small group of painful, reddish bumps on the skin which later get filled with pus. Carbuncles often form in hairy areas like the back and may also form in areas like buttocks, the thighs and armpits. Carbuncles can cause permanent scarring on the skin and may spread to other parts of the body. This infection is very painful and may remain for more than two weeks. Carbuncles are a more severe form of infection when compared to boils.

Carbuncles are caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. This inhabits the skin's surface and may cause infection by entering the follicle or a puncture on the skin. In some cases the point of entry of bacteria into the skin is not obvious. This infection is contagious as the bacteria may spread to other parts of the body or to others through direct contact. It may also spread by the sharing of personal items like towels.

Carbuncles are characterized by reddish bumps on the skin which are painful. The skin around the bumps becomes reddish in color over the next few days. The small bumps then develop a white tip which may break open, releasing the pus inside. Carbuncles may cause other symptoms like fever and fatigue. Lymph nodes and tissues lying next to the site of infection may also become swollen.  

Carbuncles are common in old age and in conditions like:

Carbuncles caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria may result in complications. This infection requires specific treatment with antibiotics- particularly if the pus is not drained out completely. If the infectious organism gains access into the blood, it will lead to sepsis and infection of other parts of the body including lung, bones and joints. Sepsis is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

One should remember not to squeeze the carbuncle to avoid serious complications and scarring. The boils can be drained using warm compresses and this will also help in healing. Washing and covering them up with sterile bandages are good to prevent the spread of infections to other parts of the body. Over-the-counter medications are recommended to relieve pain and inflammation. Make sure to wash hands thoroughly after touching the carbuncle. Personal belongings like clothing, bedding and towels also should be washed separately and thoroughly. Personal items should not be shared with anybody else if you are having carbuncles to prevent spreading. 

Visit your dermatologist to discuss your treatment options.