Boil refers to the redness and inflammation of the skin occurring due to an infection of the hair follicles, which affects the surrounding area of skin. These are most commonly caused due to the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, but may also be caused due to other groups of bacteria or even fungi.

Boils are often painful, tender to touch and are filled with pus. Damaging the hair follicle, boils further spread the infection into the deeper layers of the skin. So, it is quite essential to treat boils, if you happen to have one. While small boils can be easily managed at home with the help of home remedies like neem leaves and turmeric, which will be shared in this article, you must visit a doctor if the size of your boil is quite large or if it is extremely painful and exhibits other symptoms. There are some ways in which you can even prevent boils from erupting. You will find these in the sections ahead.

  1. Symptoms of boils
  2. Causes and Risk factors of boils
  3. Prevention of carbuncle
  4. Treatment of boils
  5. Home remedies for boils

Boils begin as tender, swollen areas, which are pinkish to red in colour, erupting on a firm area of the skin. It soon progresses to a cyst-like swelling filled with pus or fluids. At this point, it becomes immensely painful with the pain gradually diminishing after the drainage of the boil. Depending on the severity and size, boils may drain on their own or may require an incision. Following symptoms may be observed:

  • Redness over a small area of the skin, usually in hairy areas, which rub against each other like thighs, buttocks, neck, armpits or even the face
  • Pea-sized swelling, sometimes larger
  • Tenderness to touch
  • Pain
  • Having a white or yellow coloured head in the centre
  • Presence of pus or fluids
  • Quickly spreading swelling
  • Redness of the surrounding area
  • Rarely, itching
  • If the size of the boil is large, you may experience additional symptoms like fever, fatigue and malaise
  • They spread to the surrounding area causing more boils to develop and may even spread from person to person.

You may also note that the swelling may occur due to a single infected hair follicle or multiple. It is called furuncle in case one hair follicle is affected and carbuncle in case of the latter.

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Boils are most commonly caused due to S. aureus, which is a normal inhabitant of the skin. The bacteria causes infections upon gaining entry through damaged or broken skin; the latter usually occurring due to excessive friction in the aforementioned areas.

Having a poor hygiene is a significant risk factor for the development of boils since it provides a suitable medium for the entry of S. aureus. The presence of sweat and dead skin cells further provides a hostable environment.

Additionally, poor nutrition increases your susceptibility to boils due to a naturally diminished immune response of the body.

Diabetes is yet another risk factor due to immunosuppression.

Certain skin conditions such as eczema also increase the risk of boils since they damage the skin, making it more susceptible.

Boils can be prevented by taking the following measures:

  • Maintaining proper hygiene
  • Avoidance of nutritional deficiencies by consuming a balanced diet
  • Taking a shower each day and scrubbing to prevent the accumulation of dead skin cells
  • Keep your hands, clothing, bedding, linen and other objects clean
  • Avoiding to share personal items like razor, towel, clothes, etc

If you already have boils, you can prevent it from spreading to surrounding areas by taking the following measures:

  • Washing hands with an antibacterial soap after touching the boil
  • Washing clothes and beddings in warm water
  • Use a separate towel for the area affected with boils
  • Avoiding unnecessary touching or squeezing of the boil
  • Being careful while cleaning and dressing the boil
  • Keeping the boil covered until it heals
  • Regularly changing the dressing of the boil
  • Disposing of used dressing with utmost care
  • Taking a proper diet and adequate rest (this will help in a quicker recovery) 

Boils can be self-managed, however, larger ones necessitate a doctor’s visit. Mostly, boils can be successfully managed at home without any serious complications. Here is how you can do it:

  • Application of a warm cloth to the site of the boil for a duration of 10 minutes- this will speed up the process of healing. Application of a warm cloth raises the temperature of the surrounding area, which improves perfusion or blood flow of the site, allowing it to heal better and quicker. Warm, moist compress will help to aid the drainage of the boil.
  • Once the boil has already burst open, the symptoms of swelling, pain and redness will gradually diminish. Covering the area with a dressing or a sterile gauze is still essential to avoid the spread of infection.
  • If you experience intense pain, over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen may help. If you have a fever, you may also take paracetamol for relief. However, it is best to visit your doctor in these cases.
  • Use of an antibiotic cream is recommended for dressing. This may also be applied to nasal membranes since S. aureus usually inhabits this area. Over-the-counter antibiotic creams may be used for topical application.
  • It is important to note that you must not cut open the area by yourself if the size of your boil is large. You should also not use pins or other items to assist in the drainage of fluids since this can lead to severe spreading of the infection.
  • Antibiotic coverage is often prescribed for the management of boils. But, you should not consume them on your own since it holds the risk of antibiotic resistance and future infections.
  • If the boil is large, your doctor will form an incision (cut) on the area of the swelling to facilitate drainage. This may or may not be performed under the effects of local anaesthesia (numbs pain and sensations in a small area where it is injected). The wound is then disinfected and dressed.

You may require to visit a doctor for the treatment of boils if:

  • The boil is severely painful
  • The size of the boil is too large
  • Boils are recurring
  • Boils last for more than 2 weeks
  • Fever and other additional symptoms are present
  • The boil is present on the face or the area of the spine
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There are several ways in which you can manage a boil at home if warm compress fails to cure. This section will explore the best of these remedies.

Hot compress for boils

The benefits of heat application for the drainage and healing of boils have already been discussed. If warm, moist dressings did not provide you with the desired relief, you may like to try a hot compress. It is quite similar to the dressing. Just take a clean piece of cloth and dip it in some heated water. Do not over soak but ensure that the cloth is warm and moist. Then, simply apply this over the boil and exert a compressive force. This will help in oozing out of the pus and other infectious agents, facilitating the process of healing.

Turmeric for the treatment of boils

A known antiseptic and a potential antioxidant, turmeric or haldi is traditionally used for the management of boils. But, the evidence of its use is not just limited to traditional medicine. Several researchers have also demonstrated the use of turmeric in the management of boils due to its anti-inflammatory effects.

A simple way to use turmeric for boils is by forming a paste of turmeric powder with water and applying it to the skin. You have to cover this with gauze and keep it overnight. The next day, wash it off with warm water.

Neem for the management of furuncle

Neem has significant antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, which make it ideal for the treatment of boils. Antibacterial properties will help to destroy S. aureus, which is the causative agent of boils and anti-inflammatory properties will help in soothing redness, pain and swelling associated with it. Researchers recommend the use of neem leaf extract for this purpose.

To employ this remedy at home, take a few neem leaves and wash them. Now, crush and grind the leaves along with water and apply to the affected area. Cover with a piece of gauze and change the dressing after a few hours.

Neem oil for carbuncle

If neem tree is not easily available or the previous remedy seems too tedious, you can opt for using neem oil instead. It has similar antibiotic properties and is quite easy to use. Neem oil is commercially made and is easily available online. Benefits of neem oil for boils have been proved by several studies. 

Take a cotton swab and dab it with neem oil and allow to soak in for 20 minutes. Apply it on the area of the boil and let it stay overnight. Wash it off with warm water the next morning. 

You can safely use this oil 3 to 4 times a day until healing is observed.

Green amaranth for furuncle

Green amaranth or cholai is a commonly used plant in India, the leaves of which are eaten in the form of vegetable or saag. Research evidence has suggested that the use of green amaranth for the treatment of boils.

To utilise this benefit, you can wash and boil a few leaves of amaranth and form a paste. The paste can then be applied to the wound and covered with a gauze.

Turmeric milk for boils

Turmeric milk has several health benefits, due to which it is also called ‘golden milk’ (also because of its colour). It is a traditional remedy, which is popularly used due to its exorbitant healing properties. Due to anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties, turmeric milk has also been successfully used for the management of boils,

Having a glass of turmeric milk before you go to bed will help in improving the process of healing. You can use this remedy individually or you can combine it with other topical remedies for added benefits. Drinking a glass of this milk will surely assist in better healing.

Tea tree oil for the management of carbuncle

Tea tree oil is an essential oil, which has several benefits for the skin and helps in restoring its best health. It has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antifungal activities, which make it a good agent for the management of boils. Usually caused due to S. aureus, boils can occasionally be caused due to fungal agents and so, tea tree oil is highly effective because of its dual actions.

(Read more: Fungal infections symptoms)

In fact, tea tree oil can also be used for the management of severe cases of boil, which are not treatable with the help of antibiotics. Research evidence has further suggested that tea tree oil and some other essential oils like citricidus oil and geranium oil are even effective in the management of boils caused due to antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcal strains. This means that tea tree oil is one of the best home remedies for the management of boils and it is easily available online.

However, you must not apply it to the skin directly since it can act as a severe irritant. To correctly make the use of tea tree oil for the treatment of boils, dilute it with the help of water. Now, dab a sterile cotton swab in this oil and apply it to the affected area. You can leave it overnight. For best results, apply it two to three times a day until healing is observed. In case of antibiotic-resistant or recurring boils, healing may occur slowly, so, it is required to be patient.


  1. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Boils
  2. healthdirect Australia. Boils. Australian government: Department of Health
  3. Better health channel. Department of Health and Human Services [internet]. State government of Victoria; Boils
  4. [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Boils and carbuncles: How are boils treated? 2018 Jun 14.
  5. [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Boils and carbuncles: Overview. 2018 Jun 14.
  6. Soham P. Chaudhari, DO, Alison Y. Tam, DO, Jason A. Barr. Curcumin. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2015 Nov; 8(11): 43–48. PMID: 26705440
  7. Nahida Tabassum, Mariya Hamdani. Plants used to treat skin diseases. Pharmacogn Rev. 2014 Jan-Jun; 8(15): 52–60. PMID: 24600196
  8. Anjali Singh et al. Effect of Neem oil and Haridra on non-healing wounds. Ayu. 2014 Oct-Dec; 35(4): 398–403. PMID: 26195902
  9. Edwards-Jones V et al. The effect of essential oils on methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus using a dressing model. Burns. 2004 Dec;30(8):772-7. PMID: 15555788
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