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What is a carbuncle?

A carbuncle is a cluster of boils under your skin, and usually develops when a hair follicle, or a number of follicles, become infected. The infection then spreads deeper into your skin, causing the formation of a carbuncle.

They are usually red, rounded, tender to touch and filled with pus, which may discharge from numerous points. They can grow up to 10cm in size, sometimes larger.

Although they are more common in middle-aged or older men who have a weakened immune system, they can develop on anyone.

They’re most common on the back of the neck, shoulders or thighs, but they can also develop on the nose, mouth, groin, bottom or armpits. That’s because lots of bacteria is present in these areas.

As it is an infection, you may also experience a fever and generally feel unwell. Your body may need help fighting off the infection, so antibiotics are normally prescribed for carbuncles.

What are the symptoms of a carbuncle?

Sometimes, the first symptom you’ll notice is itching under the skin. Other symptoms include:

  • a red, irritated lump or multiple lumps under the skin, with a number of pus-filled, yellowy boils
  • the skin around the lump may also be inflamed and red
  • general body aches
  • fever
  • a general feeling of being unwell
  • feeling tired and weak
  • oozing or crusty skin

How are carbuncles diagnosed?

If you develop a carbuncle, you should see a GP. Our doctors will usually be able to diagnose a carbuncle simply by looking at it, which they can do over a secure, online video consultation.

The earlier the diagnosis, the higher the chance that antibiotics will be sufficient to treat the infection.

If for some reason they cannot diagnose it straight away, they may refer you for tests, which will help to identify the bacteria that is causing the infection.

If you have other symptoms, or have developed carbuncles before, you should also let the doctor know, as further testing may be needed. Also let the doctor know if you have multiple carbuncles, or if you have one that keeps returning or is not healing, despite treatment.

What are the causes of carbuncles?

Carbuncles are caused by staphylococcus aureus bacteria entering your skin and infecting a hair follicle, or a number of follicles. The infection then gets deeper into your skin, leading to a carbuncle.

The bacteria can live on your skin without causing any harm, but it can develop into an infection when it enters the skin through a cut, scrape or other trauma to the skin.

Certain people are more likely to develop carbuncles than others, and this is down to a number of reasons. These include if you:

  • have a skin condition that causes damage the skin’s surface, like eczema
  • do not practice good hygiene
  • have a condition that can cause a weakened immune system
  • have a health condition such as diabetes
  • are in physical contact with someone that has a carbuncle or live in close quarters
  • shave, which can cause damage to the skin

Carbuncles can be spread from person to person, or even around your own body.

How are carbuncles treated?

There are a number of treatment options for carbuncles, and there are things you can try at home to ease the symptoms too.

One thing to remember is to never squeeze them, as this can introduce more infection and lead to permanent scarring.

Most carbuncles react well to treatment and clear up without causing any other problems. In rare cases, they can lead to further infections, such as cellulitis. They may also cause scarring if they’re large, which is another reason why it’s really important not to pick at or squeeze them.

Antibiotics

These are usually needed to get the infection under control.

The doctor may prescribe a course or antibiotics to be taken orally or a cream that is applied to the affected area. Make sure that you complete the entire course, even if the carbuncle starts to clear up.

Painkillers

Over the counter painkillers can be taken to help with any inflammation or pain accompanying the carbuncle.

Surgery

If your carbuncle is particularly big, painful or in a problem area, you may need surgery. A needle or scalpel is usually used to drain it.

Antiseptic soaps and creams

If you have frequent carbuncles, you may be tested to see if you have the staphylococcus bacteria living on your skin or up your nose. If so, you may be prescribed antibacterial soap, or a cream for your nose, to help kill off the bacteria, which in turn should help prevent carbuncles developing.

Home remedies for carbuncles

There are some home remedies for carbuncles that may help - remember that you still need to see a doctor, though.

  • Put a warm, moist clean cloth on the carbuncle three to four times a day to encourage your carbuncle to drain. Make sure you wash the cloth after each use to prevent the spread of infection.
  • Always wash your hands after touching your carbuncle, such as when you’re applying cream to it, if prescribed.
  • Use antibacterial soap to keep your skin clean.

How can Push Doctor help?

You can see a GP over video consultation from 6am - 11pm, every day, about your carbuncle. They can take a look at the affected area, and recommend the most suitable treatment.

Our GPs can write prescriptions, which will be sent to a pharmacy near you for collection.

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