Boils and carbuncles are contagious skin infections mostly caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. In this infection, pus filled pockets form in the skin, consisting of dead skin cells, bacteria and white blood cells that fight infections. Depending on the size and location of these pockets, you may call them boils or carbuncles. 
Difference between boils and carbuncles
Boils, also known as furuncles, start with a single hair follicle and are characterized by pain and infection. A boil can be as large as a golf ball and is commonly seen on the face, armpits, neck, buttocks, and groin. On the other hand, carbuncles are deeper skin infections involving a group of hair follicles in a particular area. Carbuncles are often seen on the shoulders, thighs, hips and back of the neck. Elderly men, middle-aged men and diabetic patients are more likely to develop carbuncles. 
Boils look like red, painful, swollen bumps under the patient’s skin. With time and progress of the infection, a whitish tip may also appear in the centre. Mostly, the pus from the boil drains from this point. On the other hand, carbuncles look like a cluster or group of inter-connected boils. In most cases, carbuncles are also followed by fever and a general feeling of sickness. 
Treatment options for boils and carbuncles
There are several treatment options for boils and carbuncles. Some of them are:
Application of moist heat: A boil or carbuncle can be quickly healed by applying a wet, warm washcloth on the area for 10 minutes 3-4 times in a day. The heat will increase blood circulation around the boil or carbuncle, due to which more white blood cells will be sent to the area for fighting the infection. You may take over-the-counter pain killers like ibuprofen and paracetamol to relieve pain. 
Treatment with antibiotics: Your physician may prescribe antibiotics if you have developed high fever, severe pain or discomfort, or a secondary infection like cellulitis. Usually, a penicillin based antibiotic like flucloxacillin is recommended for 7 days, but if that is not suitable, an alternative antibiotic like clarithromycin or erythromycin may be used. 
Bursting and draining the boils: If your boils or carbuncles have become spongy and soft to touch, then chances are that they are not going to burst open on their own. Such boils also don’t respond to antibiotics. So, in such a case, your physician may decide to burst open and drain the pus with the technique of incision. In this process the tip of the boil or carbuncle will be pierced with a sterile scalpel, allowing the pus to drain out. This will stimulate the process of recovery, and also relieve some pain. 
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