Carbuncle – Pictures, Symptoms, Treatment

Carbuncles are painful cluster of boils or bumps that are filled with pus. They occur beneath the skin due to inflammation and infection of one or more hair follicles by bacteria.

Boils or furuncles normally begin as reddish, tender bumps. These bumps rapidly fill with pus and become bigger and increasingly painful until they burst open and drain. A carbuncle refers to a group of such boils that develop into a connection section of infection underneath the skin.

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It is easy to take self-care methods at home to treat a single boil. It is essential to never squeeze or prick a carbuncle, as it may result in spread of the infection. A doctor needs to be consulted if a carbuncle or a boil is accompanied by fever, lasts for more than two weeks, or is very painful.

Symptoms of carbuncle

Before understanding the signs of a carbuncle it is important to know about the symptoms of a boil.

Boils can affect the skin throughout the body, but generally occurs on the neck, face, buttocks, armpits or thighs. These are hair bearing regions which are most likely to experience friction or perspiration. Some of the signs and symptoms of a boil are listed below:

  • A reddish, painful lump erupts out. It is approximately the size of a pea.
  • The size of the lump increases over time as it fills up with pus. On occasions, it can grow into the size of a golf ball
  • The skin surrounding the boil may become swollen and experience redness
  • A yellowish-white tip develops later, which ultimately ruptures and lets the pus to flow out
  • The pain generally diminishes after the drainage of pus. Tiny boils normally heal without leaving a scar, but a big boil can cause scarring

A carbuncle is a group of boils that normally affects the posterior of the neck, thighs or shoulders. The signs and symptoms of carbuncles are as follows:

  • Carbuncles grow and heal more slowly as opposed to a single boil
  • It may be accompanied by fever and chills
  • Carbuncles cause a more serious and deeper infection as compared to a single boil
  • It can result in malaise or a general feeling of being unwell
  • It is more likely to result in a scar

Carbuncles and boils result in only a few health complications, but when they do it can be serious. They include the following:

  • Sepsis or blood poisoning: In certain instances, the bacteria from a carbuncle or less frequently from a boil can pass into the bloodstream and spread to other areas of the body. Such a spread of infection is known as blood poisoning, which can result in infections of vital organs of the body such as the heart or the bones. Sepsis in itself can cause a number of symptoms such as heightened breathing, high fever and increased rate of heart beats as well as septic shock which can cause deaths due to severely low blood pressure
  • Another serious complication of carbuncle is the growth of drug resistant strains of the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Nearly fifty percent of the staph bacteria occurring in hospitals are resistant to methicillin and other commonly used antibiotics. It may be noted that such drug resistant bacteria may also be contracted via general community and not just in hospital settings.

Causes of a carbuncle

  • Infection of one or more hair follicles with the staph bacteria can lead to the formation of boils and carbuncles. They can be normally found to occur on the skin, the nasal passages and the throat.
  • These bacteria can enter the skin via a scratch, cut or other tears in the skin, eventually leading to the development of a boil and later on a carbuncle. The entrance of bacteria into the body causes the white blood cells to rush to the affected area and fight the infection. This results in inflammation which ultimately causes the development of pus.

Carbuncles can occur in all individuals, including healthy people. However, the following risk factors increase the susceptibility to developing the condition:

  • Diabetic patients have lesser capacity to fight infections and thus more prone to carbuncle formation
  • Close proximity and contact with a person infected by staph bacteria can increase the risk
  • A person with weakened immune system does not have the ability to fight infections and thus has greater vulnerability to developing carbuncles
  • Various skin disorders like eczema and acne, etc damage the outer protective layer of skin and hence people with such skin conditions are at increased risk to developing carbuncles

Carbuncle treatment

  • Small boils can be treated at home via the application of a warm compress to alleviate pain and accelerate natural elimination of pus
  • Treatment of large boils and carbuncles involves drainage via incision and additional treatment with antibiotics
  • The incision procedure involves making of a tiny cut at the top of the carbuncle to allow drainage. This reduces the pain, decreases scarring and aids quick recovery. Deeper infections that cannot be fully drained may be covered with sterile gauze to facilitate continual drainage of pus.
  • Recurrent and serious cases of infections in carbuncles may require treatment with antibiotics.

Carbuncle Pictures



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