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  • Select from over 100 symptoms to read more about managing your child's illness.

    Is Your Child Sick? TM


    Boil

    Is this your child's symptom?

    • Painful red lump in the skin
    • Hair follicle infection caused by the Staph bacteria
    • Most boils need to be seen by a doctor

    Symptoms of a Boil

    • Bright red lump (swelling) in the skin.
    • Painful, even when not being touched.
    • Most often ½ to 1 inch across (1 to 2 cm).
    • After about a week, the center of the boil becomes filled with pus. The center becomes soft and mushy.
    • The skin over the boil then develops a large pimple. This is known as "coming to a head."

    Causes of Boils

    • A boil is an infection of a hair follicle (skin pore).
    • Boils are caused by the Staph bacteria.
    • Friction from tight clothing is a risk factor. Common sites are the groin, armpit, buttock, thigh or waist.
    • Shaving is also a risk factor. Common sites are the face, legs, armpits or pubic area.

    Prevention of Boils

    • Washing hands is key to preventing Staph skin infections. Have everyone in the home wash their hands often. Use a liquid antibacterial soap or alcohol hand sanitizer. Have everyone shower daily. Showers are best, because baths still leave many Staph bacteria on the skin.
    • Avoid nose picking. 30% of people have Staph bacteria in their nose.
    • When shaving anywhere on the body, never try to shave too close. Reason: It causes small cuts that allow Staph bacteria to enter the skin.

    Prevention - Bleach Baths for Boils that Come Back.

    • Some doctors suggest bleach baths to prevent boils from coming back. Talk with your doctor about this treatment.
    • Use ½ cup (120 mL) of regular bleach per 1 full bathtub of water.
    • Soak for 10 minutes twice weekly.
    • This mix of bleach and water is like a swimming pool.

    When to Call for Boil

    When to Call for Boil

    Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

    • Widespread red rash
    • Fever
    • Boil on the face
    • Age less than 1 month old (newborn) with a boil
    • Weak immune system. Examples are sickle cell disease, HIV, cancer, organ transplant, taking oral steroids.
    • Your child looks or acts very sick
    • You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent

    Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

    • Age less than 1 year old with a boil
    • Spreading redness around the boil
    • There are 2 or more boils
    • Size is larger than 2 inches (5 cm) across
    • Center of the boil is soft or pus-colored. Exception: a common pimple.
    • Boil is draining pus
    • You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

    Call Doctor During Office Hours

    • Boil suspected (red lump larger than ½ inch or 12 mm across). Reason: confirm your child does have a boil. Note: see home care advice for boil treatment.
    • Using antibiotic ointment more than 3 days for small red lump, but not improved
    • Boils keep coming back in your family
    • You have other questions or concerns

    Self Care at Home

    • Boil diagnosed by a doctor
    • Possible boil not yet seen by a doctor: painful red lump larger than ½ inch (12 mm) across
    • Possible early boil or minor skin infection: tender red lump smaller than ½ inch (12 mm) across. Note: see home care advice for small red lump.

    Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

    • Widespread red rash
    • Fever
    • Boil on the face
    • Age less than 1 month old (newborn) with a boil
    • Weak immune system. Examples are sickle cell disease, HIV, cancer, organ transplant, taking oral steroids.
    • Your child looks or acts very sick
    • You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent

    Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

    • Age less than 1 year old with a boil
    • Spreading redness around the boil
    • There are 2 or more boils
    • Size is larger than 2 inches (5 cm) across
    • Center of the boil is soft or pus-colored. Exception: a common pimple.
    • Boil is draining pus
    • You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

    Call Doctor During Office Hours

    • Boil suspected (red lump larger than ½ inch or 12 mm across). Reason: confirm your child does have a boil. Note: see home care advice for boil treatment.
    • Using antibiotic ointment more than 3 days for small red lump, but not improved
    • Boils keep coming back in your family
    • You have other questions or concerns

    Self Care at Home

    • Boil diagnosed by a doctor
    • Possible boil not yet seen by a doctor: painful red lump larger than ½ inch (12 mm) across
    • Possible early boil or minor skin infection: tender red lump smaller than ½ inch (12 mm) across. Note: see home care advice for small red lump.

    Care Advice

    Treatment for a Boil (painful red lump larger than ½ inch or 12 mm across)

    1. What You Should Know About Boils:
      • A boil is a Staph infection of a hair follicle.
      • It is not a serious infection.
      • Boils should be seen by a doctor for treatment.
      • The doctor can tell if it needs to be drained and when to do it.
      • Here is some care advice that should help.
    2. Moist Heat:
      • Heat can help bring the boil "to a head," so it can be drained.
      • Apply a warm, wet washcloth to the boil. Do this for 15 minutes 3 times a day.
    3. Pain Medicine:
      • Until it drains, all boils are painful.
      • To help with the pain, give an acetaminophen product (such as Tylenol).
      • Another choice is an ibuprofen product (such as Advil).
      • Use as needed.
    4. Opening the Boil - Done Only by a Doctor:
      • The main treatment of boils is to open them and drain the pus.
      • Then, boils will usually heal on their own.
      • Draining the boil must always be done in a medical setting.
    5. Caution - Do Not Squeeze:
      • Do not squeeze a boil or try to open a boil yourself.
      • Reason: this can force bacteria into the bloodstream or cause more boils.
      • Squeezing a boil on the face can be very harmful.
    6. Antibiotics By Mouth:
      • Antibiotics may or may not be helpful. Your doctor will decide.
      • If prescribed, take the antibiotic as directed.
    7. Pus Precautions:
      • Pus or other drainage from an open boil contains lots of Staph bacteria.
      • Once a boil is opened it will drain pus for 3 to 4 days. Then it will slowly heal up.
      • Cover all draining boils with a clean, dry bandage. A gauze pad and tape work well.
      • Change the bandage twice daily.
      • Clean the skin around the boil with an antibacterial soap each time.
      • Carefully throw the bandage away in the regular trash.
      • Wash your hands well after any contact with the boil, drainage or the bandage.
    8. What to Expect:
      • Without treatment, the body will slowly wall off the Staph infection.
      • After about a week, the center of the boil will fill with pus. It will become soft.
      • The skin over the boil then develops a large pimple. This is known as "coming to a head."
      • The boil is now ready for draining by your doctor.
      • Without draining, it will open and drain by itself in 3 or 4 days.
    9. Return to School or Child Care:
      • Closed boils cannot spread to others.
      • Children with a closed boil can go to school or child care.
      • The pus or drainage in open boils can spread infection to others.
      • For open boils, the drainage needs to be fully covered with a dry bandage. If not, stay home until it heals up (most often 1 week).
    10. Return to Sports:
      • Children with a closed boil may be able to play sports.
      • Children with an open boil cannot return to contact sports until drainage has stopped.
      • Check with the team's trainer, if there is one.
    11. Call Your Doctor If:
      • Fever occurs
      • Redness spreads beyond the boil
      • Boil becomes larger than 2 inches (5 ml) across
      • Boil comes to a head (soft pus-colored center)
      • You think your child needs to be seen
      • Your child becomes worse

    Treatment for a Small Tender Red Lump (less than ½ inch or 12 mm across)

    1. What You Should Know About a Small Tender Red Lump:
      • A small red lump most often is a minor infection of a hair follicle.
      • It may or may not become a boil.
      • Use an antibiotic ointment to keep it from getting worse. No prescription is needed.
      • Apply it to the red lump 3 times per day.
    2. Pain Medicine:
      • If painful, give an acetaminophen product (such as Tylenol).
      • Another choice is an ibuprofen product (such as Advil).
      • Use as needed.
    3. Caution - Do Not Squeeze:
      • Do not squeeze skin lump. Reason: squeezing it can force bacteria into the skin.
    4. Call Your Doctor If:
      • Red lump becomes larger or bigger than ½ inch (12 mm)
      • Not improved after using antibiotic ointment for 3 days
      • You think your child needs to be seen
      • Your child becomes worse

    And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

    Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.

    Copyright 2000-2019 Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC.

    Boil

    Boil. A boil is an infection of a hair follicle. It starts as a red lump and quickly fills with pus. As it grows, it becomes more painful. This photo shows the pus-filled center of the boil. A doctor can tell if it needs to be drained and when to do so.