Will popping a boil make it go away quicker? Is it safe? Find out how to handle this common affliction.
Is it safe to pop a boil – and, if you do, will it help it heal faster? Boils, also known as furuncles, are a common problem that are more frequently seen in children and teenagers – particularly children who play outside where they’re exposed to dirt. Children are more susceptible to boils because their immune systems are less capable of destroying the bacteria that causes them. Boils can be painful – and there’s always the temptation to pop one in hopes of helping it heal faster. Should you do it?
Should You Pop a Boil?: What Causes Them?
Boils are usually caused by a hair follicle that becomes blocked off – by an ingrown hair, friction from clothing, or by injury and exposure to dirt and moisture. People who have a weakened immune system from diabetes or other medical problems are more prone to developing boils. When a hair follicle is obstructed, bacteria – usually Staphylococcus – can multiply leading to the accumulation of pus – and a red, raised, swollen area that’s painful to the touch. Boils can become quite large and may stick around for several weeks – causing a lot of pain and tenderness.
Should You Pop a Boil?
It’s not a good idea. When you pop a boil, you run the risk of introducing more bacteria into the wound – especially if you don’t use sterile technique. Plus, anytime you start poking on skin, it increases the chance of scarring. There’s also the risk of spreading the infection to the surrounding tissue when you pop a boil. The good news? Most boils or furuncles open up and drain on their own within two weeks. In the meantime, it’s important to keep the area as clean as possible to reduce the risk of further infection.
Short of Popping a Boil, What Can You Do to Treat One?
Placing warm, moist, very clean towels on a boil encourages it to open up and drain which can speed up the healing process. If the boil doesn’t drain on its own in two weeks or if it’s on the face or spine, see a doctor since it may need to be drained sterilely with a needle and treated with antibiotics.
Always watch for signs that the infection is spreading into the surrounding areas – such as redness or streaking. If you experience these symptoms or have a fever or chills, see your doctor right away. Anything that touches the area should be as clean as possible.
The Bottom Line?
It’s best to leave a boil alone and allow it to drain on its own to reduce the risk of further infection or scarring. The good news is most boils heal up well all by themselves.
Merck Manual. 18th Edition.