At some point in their lives, most people will experience a condition called a boil (also known as an abscess or boil). These painful skin infections are not easy to drain and are usually best entrusted to a healthcare professional .
This is especially true if the abscess is on the face, neck, arms, ankles, genitals, rectum , or any sensitive skin area, as a specialist will likely drain it in the operating room. The same applies if you have diabetes or a weakened immune system.
Before the procedure
The abscess must be drained in a sterile environment using sterile instruments, including but not limited to gloves, an installed surgical blade, an irrigation syringe, sterile saline, and a dressing.
Superficial boils that affect fleshy parts of the skin, such as the upper leg or torso, are usually drained as part of an in-office procedure. However, even some of them require surgery if they are large or especially deep .
Anesthesia can be challenging when draining a boil. Injecting lidocaine into and around a painful mass can increase pain and lead to the risk of puncture from abscess-filled pus (especially if it is a carbuncle, a consolidated group of multiple boils).
For small boils, you can use an ethyl chloride spray to numb the skin around the boil.
How to drain a boil
Every effort is made to maintain a sterile environment as part of the office procedure. The procedure takes a total of five to 10 minutes and generally includes the following steps:
- The healthcare professional wears suitable protective clothing and sterile gloves. A plastic absorbent pad is placed under the area to be drained.
- The treating physician finds the point of maximum fluctuation or "bubbles" (head or boiling point). At this stage, ethyl chloride can be used to numb the affected area.
- The doctor quickly makes an incision where the abscess fluctuates more to release pus. A sample of pus can be collected and sent to a lab for culture.
- Depending on the size of the boil, your doctor may need to make more incisions to make sure the small pockets (or patches) of pus are completely drained.
- The cavity is flushed with sterile saline, placed with gauze, bandaged, and bandaged.
Home remedies and personal care
Despite the warnings, people often choose to pierce the boil themselves. This can certainly sound sensible as long as it's the size of a pimple and doesn't cause undue pain. The problem is that the unexpected can and does happen, and the "shallow" boil can become deeper and deeper than anticipated.
Avoid temptation. Instead, put a warm, damp cloth on the boil for 20 to 30 minutes four to five times a day. You can cover it with a heating pad to keep it warm. After about a week or maybe less, the abscess may open on its own.
When this happens, wash the affected area with soap and water and apply a sterile dressing. You can also use an over-the-counter antiseptic such as Bacitracin, Neosporin, or Betadine if the wound is small.
For the next several days, continue to use heat to speed drainage, rinsing the area twice a day and applying a new bandage each time.
If the boil doesn't open on its own, don't be discouraged and don't try to "pop." Squeezing only makes the infection deeper. Make an appointment to be drained in a sterile environment.
If you have a boil and have any complications, including fever or worsening symptoms, see your doctor immediately or go to the nearest emergency room.
Frequently asked questions
Is it safe to boil?
No. Boils are usually bacterial infections . If you push one of them to explode, the infection can penetrate even deeper. Instead, for small boils, use warm compresses to clear the infection and let it drain on its own. Then treat the open wound with an antibacterial medicine . For large boils, the doctor must drain them to avoid complications.
How can I prevent boils from coming back?
Keep the skin at the boil site clean and dry every day and wear loose-fitting clothing to avoid irritation. If recurring boils are a problem, your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics. You may also be advised to use a nasal cream that prevents bacteria from spreading from the nasal cavities to this area.
What comes out of the boil when it is drained?
Pus , known by the medical term as a purulent exudate, comes out of a boil. This liquid can be white and yellow, but it can also appear brown or green. Pus is a sign that the body is fighting an infection. It consists of white blood cells, bacteria that these cells fight against, and destroyed tissue from the infected area.