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A boil is a skin infection involving an entire hair follicle and nearby skin tissue. Boils are very common. Boils may occur in the hair follicles anywhere on the body. They are most common on the face, neck, armpit, buttocks, and thighs. There can be one or many boils.

A boil may begin as a tender, pinkish-red, swollen, firm area in the skin. Over time, the boil will feel like a water filled balloon or cyst. Pain gets worse as the boil fills with pus and dead tissue, and improves as the boil drains. The boil may drain on its own. More often the patient or someone else opens the boil.

The boil:

  • Is usually the size of a pea, but may be as large as a golf ball
  • May develop white or yellow centers (pustules)
  • May join with another boil or spread to other areas of the skin
  • May grow quickly
  • May weep, ooze, or crust

Boils may heal on their own after a period of itching and mild pain. More often, they get larger and cause discomfort as pus collects. Boils usually must be opened and drain before they will heal. This usually occurs in less than two weeks after onset. Deep or large boils may need to be drained surgically by a health care provider.

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