A carbuncle is a collection of infected hair follicles that form a painful, swollen dome shaped lump which leaks pus on occasion. This is one of the more unpleasant skin conditions and affects teenagers rather than adults.

Carbuncles affect more boys than girls: in fact the most likely time to develop these is in early adolescence, usually around the time they develop acne as well. Plus boys tend to get acne more than girls.

This is a highly infectious skin condition which can spread to other parts of the body and/or other people. So if you have this condition you will have to be extra mindful of your personal hygiene and avoid sharing towels, facecloths etc with other people.

Who is more at risk of developing a carbuncle?

Well, gender plays a part as boys and men are statistically more likely to develop these than girls and women. But other factors play a part such as:

  • Ill health
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Friction against the skin caused by clothing or shaving

If you or anyone in your family has a poor immune system or chronic conditions such as diabetes then they are at greater risk of developing carbuncles.

Causes of carbuncles

How does a carbuncle develop? It occurs when a group of hair follicles become infected, usually with the staphylococcus aureus bacteria which cause these painful lumps to form.

Each lump has a white or yellow centre: if it has a yellow centre then this will be caused by a collection of oil, pus and dead tissue which oozes out. This mainly applies to the smaller carbuncles as larger ones are deep seated and

Large carbuncles are deep seated within the skin and require help with draining off this liquid.

Symptoms of carbuncles

A carbuncle develops in the bottom layer of skin or subcutaneous tissue and forms a large, red, swollen and painful lump which discharges pus through various openings in the skin. They develop in areas of the body such as the inner thighs, buttocks, neck and back.

It is accompanied by a fever, nausea and general fatigue.

Diagnosing carbuncles

You can treat carbuncles but if they don’t respond to your treatment, cause a fever and sickness and are oozing pus and other fluids then see your GP.

Your GP will examine the affected areas before performing a skin biopsy. The biopsy is a small amount of skin with the carbuncle, preferably one which contains pus as that will enable the laboratory to determine the cause of the infection.

Treatment for carbuncles

A carbuncle will need to be drained of fluid which speeds up the healing process. This can be done by placing a warm not hot cloth over the carbuncle which draws out the fluid. Do this several times in a day.

Large carbuncles will be drained by your GP.

Do NOT pick, scratch or rub the carbuncles as this will only spread the infection.

If your carbuncles have appeared on your back, near your spine or your face and are accompanied by other symptoms then they will require medical treatment. This includes antibiotics and special antibacterial soaps/cleansers.

Take extra care with personal hygiene and keep a separate set of towels, hand/face cloths and sheets which are washed after use. Do not allow anyone else to use these as this infection is easily spread between people.

A carbuncle may heal by itself but others will require treatment. However, carbuncles can develop time and time again.

There is a risk of complications with these, for example, permanent scars on the skin but a good treatment plan will reduce the risk of this happening.