Understanding What Causes Boils

Bacteria and fungi can result in a number of physical maladies, and boils are among them. Boils are certainly uncomfortable for most people, but they can also be distinctly painful. A comprehensive understanding of what they are is helpful in combating them. A thorough understanding of what causes boils is sometimes of help in preventing them, and it can also be of help in minimizing their spread when they cannot be avoided.

What Are Boils

Boils are sometimes called furuncles, the name originating from a Latin term for petty thief. Skin infections that begin in hair follicles or oil glands, they are most often caused by staphylococcus aureus. They might also be the result of other varieties of bacteria or fungal infections.

They typically begin as hard, red bumps that gradually soften as they begin to fill with necrotic tissue and pus. They also tend to become more painful as they soften and swell. Within about two weeks, boils generally rupture, drain and heal. The lesions tend to appear on the thighs, buttocks, shoulders, armpits, face and neck. Most people can care for their boils at home, but it is important not to squeeze or lance them. This could cause the infection to spread, and that is why the lancing of boils is best left to medical professionals.

There are several other terms related to boils that help to further explain what they are.

  • Folliculitis is a somewhat less intensive infection than a boil. The pus is visible in the epidermis, and the inflammation is more superficial than with a boil.
  • Perifollicular abscess is a pathology term for what a boil is. It is an infection of a hair follicle that has spread more deeply into the skin.
  • Furunculosis is the name for the condition in which boils are recurring.
  • A carbuncle is what it is called when multiple boils have formed a single, deep abscess.

What Causes Boils

Understanding the circumstances under which a person could develop boils might help some individuals to avoid them. A variety of things can lead to boils, but hygiene and the ability to defend against infection play a role in most of the causes. Because bacterial and fungal infections are responsible for boils, conditions that compromise a person’s defenses are often a culprit. Some conditions that lead to boils are diseases, and some conditions are a matter of circumstance or habit.

  • Compromised Immune System
  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Malnutrition
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Poor personal hygiene

People who have a diminished ability to fight infections are more prone to conditions such as boils. Illnesses and medications that weaken the immune system, antibiotic resistance and malnutrition can make a person more susceptible. Individuals with type 2 diabetes are at risk due to complications from elevated blood glucose levels that affect the skin. Obesity presents a risk of boils because of a condition that causes inflammation of sweat glands. Poor hygiene can be a cause of boils because it creates a hospitable environment for bacteria.

Because many accidental mishaps can occur or cause the skin to break with bacteria present, there are also a few innocuous incidents that can inadvertently cause boils.

  • A cut or insect bite
  • Ingrown hair
  • Splinter or foreign object lodged in the skin
  • Clogged sweat gland

These inadvertent causes are also more likely for people who are already vulnerable from one of the other conditions that put them at risk. A person suffering from malnutrition and poor hygiene, for example, is susceptible to infections when experiencing scrapes and cuts that break the skin. Knowing what causes boils when combined with other factors can thus help people to further minimize their chances of developing them.