Your skin is your body’s largest organ. To a significant extent, keeping your skin healthy is essential in maintaining your overall health. Bacterial infections such as folliculitis, furuncles and carbuncles, collectively known as “boils” or “abscesses,” are triggered by exposure of vulnerable areas of the skin to the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. Such bacterial infections are not only unsightly; they can trigger deeper health problems if not properly treated. In many cases, bacterial infections can be treated at home with over-the-counter remedies. However, if you have a more serious bacterial infection or an underlying condition which requires specific care (like stoma care or wound care) you may need to seek the services of a medical professional.
Folliculitis is a type of minor bacterial infection that is characterized by small pustules that are located in and around individual hair follicles. Folliculitis results from a number of factors, including chronic skin friction, improperly fitting clothing, chemical exposure or excessive uncontrolled sweating. A specialized type of folliculitis, commonly known as “hot tub folliculitis” is an infection that is caused by exposure to the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa which is present in hot tubs, whirlpools, and swimming pools that do not maintain sufficient chlorine levels.
Furuncles are more a more extensive type of bacterial infection than folliculitis because furuncles also involve sebaceous glands along with hair follicles. Furuncles begin as tender red nodules but frequently develop into pus-filled infections. Furuncles are generally located on the neck, face, buttocks and armpits, but can be located on other areas of the body. Risk factors for furuncles include obesity, oral steroid medication use, blood disorders and diabetes. General poor hygiene can also contribute to the formation of furuncles. Fortunately, many furuncles do not require medical treatment of any kind; instead, they often drain and resolve themselves over the course of several days or a week.
In the simplest terms, a carbuncle is a group of multiple furuncles concentrated in a single location. However, unlike furuncles, carbuncles also involve the deeper layers of subcutaneous fat, that is, fat that is located underneath the skin but above vital organs. Carbuncles look like large red nodules and are frequently hot to the touch. You may also be able to see layers of pus trapped within the carbuncle beneath the surface of the skin. Carbuncles carry the same risk factors as furuncles, but carbuncles often form only in the presence of extremely poor personal hygiene. This is especially true in regard to carbuncles that form on the buttocks or within the genital area.
Treating Bacterial Infections
For minor bacterial infections such as folliculitis, a wait-and-see approach is perfectly legitimate. Pressing a warm, wet washcloth to affected areas periodically can relieve pain and hasten the resolution of the infection by absorption or drainage. For furuncles and carbuncles, professional medical treatment may be necessary. A physician may prescribe antibiotics to combat the bacteria causing the infection. For extremely severe cases, a process known as incision and drainage allows the pus to escape from the infection site, which allows the infected skin and wound to heal on their own.
Barbara Hammond is a infectious disease nurse and ostomate. To relax, she likes to write about her experiences to share with others in hopes of helping them cope.