A carbuncle is a boil which is larger and more serious than an ordinary boil. It can also be a group of boils that are so close together that they form one big boil. Carbuncles can occur anywhere on the skin where hair grows, but often they arise in the neck. They are very painful and the person can be quite ill.
A carbuncle has more than one crater (skin opening) and is more serious than a normal boil, because it penetrates deeper into the skin. This can affect the underlying tissue. A carbuncle is caused by inflammation of a hair follicle. The result is a pus-filled cavity, also known as abscess. The inflammation is usually caused by staphylococcus bacteria. When the immune system is lowered, a person is more susceptible to carbuncles. The risk of developing carbuncles is also higher in older people and diabetic patients.
The pus coming out of the carbuncle is very contagious, causing new pimples to arise. After infection, it usually takes four to ten days before the first symptoms occur.
Signs and symptoms of a carbuncle are:
- Large red bump that feels hot and hurts when it's being touched. The size of the bump is three to ten centimeters.
- Yellowish pus leaks from several openings.
- Feeling sick.
The diagnosis of carbuncle is based on the medical history, the story of the patient and the symptoms. A little pus is sometimes taken for examination, in order to find out which bacteria caused the infection and to prescribe the appropriate medication.
When a carbuncle is small to relatively small and is not located in a dangerous place, antibiotics or even no treatment at all are sometimes adequate. The antibiotics should kill the bacteria which have caused the carbuncle. After several days of treatment, the carbuncle will already have largely disappeared.
When a carbuncle is large to quite large, it brings about risks to the health of the patient. As a carbuncle is going to be under great pressure, it can break. When this breaking of a carbuncle is on the outside of the skin, it need not have a severe impact as long as the skin is kept clean.
However, it is also possible that due to the breaking of the carbuncle, pus is leaking to the inside, toward the tissue and the bloodstream. Bacteria in the bloodstream may cause various conditions there. When the carbuncle is located behind the ear or in the neck, bacteria in the bloodstream can, in severe cases, even cause brain infections. Such brain infections are potentially fatal, but can be prevented by proper treatment. Where there is risk of brain infections, the carbuncle can be drained with a syringe. In larger carbuncles, an incision can be made, from which the pus can leak and thoroughly cleaned. In severe cases, when the carbuncle is very large and carries a high risk, the carbuncle can be surgically removed.
Carbuncles usually cure well and without complications, although sometimes with scarring. However, the possibility exists that the condition recurs.
- Don’t squeeze a carbuncle yourself. This could cause the pus to penetrate deeper into the skin or even get into the bloodstream or lymph. This can lead to infection of internal organs, which is very dangerous.
- Because a carbuncle is so contagious, it must be kept thoroughly clean, especially when pus comes out. Don’t remove any hair around the area of the carbuncle. Proper hygiene and immune system help against the development of new carbuncles.