Also known as skin abscesses, boils form as a result of a cut or break in the skin, which leads to a bacterial infection. They are characterized as a red, tender area with a painful, pus-filled center that can open spontaneously or by surgical incision. Some boils are caused by an ingrown hair. Others are caused by plugged-up sweat glands, such as some types of cystic acne. Anyone can get a boil. They grow quickly and are usually painful until they drain. However, left alone a boil will naturally come to a head and burst open, allowing the pus to drain and the skin to heal. People with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to boils than the general population.
Boils tend to occur on parts of the body that have hair or sweat glands and are exposed to friction, typically on the face, neck, armpits or buttocks. There are a variety of different types of boils:
Furuncle or Carbuncle. These abscesses are caused by the Staphylococcus aureus bacterium. A furuncle is an individual boil; carbuncles are deep clusters of boils that most often form on the back of the neck, shoulders or thighs.
Pilonidal Cyst. An infected hair follicle around the buttocks area caused by long periods of sitting. Pilonidal cysts almost always require medical treatment.
Hidredenitis Suppurativa. These are multiple abscesses that form from blocked sweat glands in the armpits or groin areas.
Cystic Acne. These boils are situated more deeply into skin tissue than the more superficial forms of acne. It typically occurs among teenagers.
Boils respond well to home remedies. To promote healing, apply heat to the boil in the form of hot soaks or compresses. Keep the area clean, apply over-the-counter antibiotics and then cover with gauze. Do not puncture or squeeze the boil because it can lead to further infection. If the boil does not go away within two weeks, is accompanied by a fever or is painful, contact your dermatologist. The doctor will clean, lance and drain the boil and prescribe an antibiotic to alleviate the infection.
Candidiasis is the medical term for yeast infections in the body. There are three forms of candidiasis that relate specifically to the skin:
Oral Candidiasis (Oral Thrush). This infection is characterized by lacy, white patches on top of reddened areas that occur on the tongue, throat or elsewhere in the mouth. It is usually accompanied by a fever, colic or diarrhea. Oral thrush can be painful and lead to an uncomfortable burning sensation in the mouth. People who are diabetic, have suppressed immune systems, patients undergoing antibiotic or chemotherapy treatment and denture wearers are more susceptible to this infection. It is particularly important to catch it early in infants and children. Because of the discomfort caused by oral thrush, they may stop eating and/or drinking.
Diaper Rash. Candidiasis breeds in warm, moist environments and in the natural creases of the skin. Some diaper rashes are bacterial, but many are caused by yeast infections. To treat diaper rash, use over-the-counter powders and ointments and antifungal creams and lotions. Plan on frequent diaper changes to give the skin a chance to be exposed to air regularly. If diaper rash doesn’t abate in seven to 10 days, contact your dermatologist.
Candidal Intertrigo. This yeast infection occurs in moist overlapping skin folds, such as areas in the inner thighs, armpits, under the breasts, below the belly, behind the ears and in the webbed spaces between the fingers and toes. It is more common among people who are overweight. It is characterized by red, raw skin surrounded by scaling and, in some cases, lesions that itch, ooze or hurt. Candidal intertrigo is treated with medicated topical creams.
Cellulitis is a common bacterial skin infection that is caused by either Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacteria. Both of these bacteria occur naturally on the skin. A break or cut in the skin causes the bacteria to enter the body, which leads to an active infection. Cellulitis most often occurs from:
- cracking or peeling skin between the toes,
- insect bites or stings, and
- a skin cut, break or trauma.
Cellulitis appears as a swollen red area of skin that is tender and hot to the touch. Symptoms include chills, fever, muscle ache, fatigue, pain or tenderness in an area with a skin rash or sore. The redness increases in size as the infection spreads. It typically comes on suddenly and spreads quickly. Cellulitis can arise anywhere on the body, but usually appears on the face or legs. Be sure to contact your dermatologist as soon as you observe these symptoms to start an effective treatment.
To prevent cellulitis, be sure to clean any cut or break in the skin promptly with soap and water and cover the wound with a bandage until it scabs over. Watch for redness, tenderness, drainage or pain as these are signs of infection.
Chicken pox is a common illness, particularly among children. It is characterized by itchy red spots or blisters all over the body. Chicken pox is caused by the Herpes Varicella Zoster virus. It is highly contagious, but most cases are not dangerous.
Chicken pox can be passed on from two to three days before the rash appears until the blisters are crusted over. It spreads from exposure to infected people who cough, sneeze, share food or drinks or by touching the blisters. It is often accompanied by a headache, sore throat and possibly a fever. The incubation period (from exposure to first appearance of symptoms) is 14 to 16 days. When the blisters crust over, they are no longer contagious and the child can return to normal activity. This normally takes about 10 days after the initial appearance of symptoms.
It is important not to scratch the blisters as it can slow down the healing process and result in scarring. Scratching may also lead to another infection. To help relieve the itching, soak in a cool bath. The child should get plenty of bed rest and can take over-the-counter analgesics to reduce any fever. More serious cases are usually seen in people with other long-term health problems.
Although about four million children get chicken pox each year, it may be preventable via a vaccine. Children should receive two doses of the vaccine the first between 12 and 15 months and the second between ages four and six. Older children who have not been vaccinated can be effectively treated with two catch-up doses. Adults who have never had the illness should also be vaccinated.
A particular type of skin infection (cellulitis) that is characterized by blisters; skin that is red, swollen, warm and/or painful to the touch; or by lesions with raised borders that most frequently appear on the face or legs. It also appears as sores on the cheeks and bridge of the nose. It is usually caused by the Streptococcus bacteria and occurs in both adults and children.
Erysipelas requires medical treatment, so you should contact your dermatologist as soon as you suspect you may have this infection. Antibiotics (usually penicillin) are generally prescribed. In severe cases, the patient may need to have antibiotics delivered intravenously.
Folliculitis is an inflammation of one or more hair follicles. It appears as a rash or white-headed pimples or pustules near a hair follicle. It can occur anywhere on the body, but typically affects hairy areas, such as the neck or groin. Follicles can be damaged from repeated friction (such as rubbing of too tight clothes) or a blockage of the hair follicle (for instance, from shaving). In most cases, follicles become infected with the Staphylococcus bacteria.
There are two types of folliculitis:
Superficial Folliculitis affects the upper area of the hair follicle and may cause red, inflamed skin, small clusters of red bumps, blisters that break open and crust over and/or itchiness and tenderness. When the infection occurs in men’s beards, it is called Barber’s Itch.. When it is caused by a fungal infection, it is known as Tinea Barbae (ringworm).
Deep Folliculitis affects the entire follicle from its deepest parts under the skin to the surface of the skin. This less-common form of folliculitis is seen in people who are undergoing chronic acne antibiotic treatment, people with HIV or people with boils and carbuncles.
Generally, folliculitis is treated with antifungal medications.