What is a boil? - Punch Newspapers
The most widely read newspaper in Nigeria
1 August 2021A boil is a skin infection that almost every person has had and suffered from. Yet, many people are slow to identify it when it occurs and are even slower to get useful treatment. It is a skin infection that usually starts in a hair follicle or an oil gland, also called a sebaceous gland. This is a gland that produces the oil responsible for moisturising the skin. When a sebaceous gland is blocked or obstructed, the secreted oil accumulates behind the obstruction that behaves like a dam and it is easy for it to get invaded by bacteria. When this happens, a boil forms. The most common bacteria involved in this problem is Staphylococcus aureus.
It then forms a localised, reddish and painful spot on the area of the skin involved that sometimes enlarges in size and can spread to become a big problem. Most of the time, however, it is a problem that is confined to a small area of the body. As the presence of a boil involves one of the most common bacteria known to man, the skin being the largest organ in the body is usually prone to such invasion by bacteria. This situation may have a role to play in persuading some people that Staph aureus is responsible for nearly every malady in the human body.
A boil can be found practically anywhere in the skin. In the buttocks, it is so painful that sitting down may become a real challenge depending on what part of the buttocks is involved. When such a boil is found in the pubic region, the pain is usually severe but it may be more tolerable than to have it in the buttocks because there are no pressure points in that area that can make the pain unbearable. The armpit is another area where a boil can develop and it is usually an uncomfortable feeling when this happens because it becomes a problem then to handle the arm the way it should normally be positioned. Boils can develop in the eyelids, the scalp and around the anus. It can be found in the finger tips where its progression is often called whitlow, the pain of which is something that is incomparable. In the words of my uncle, when a person has got a whitlow, they will know that the night can be long. That is the summary of the sheer misery that accompanies this development. A related infection, often closely interchanged with whitlow is called felon; this is an infection of the pulp of the closed spaces of the finger. headtopics.com
Both infections involving the finger are particularly painful. The felon finger commonly involves the pad of the finger while a whitlow tends to be deeper in the finger and confined to the finger tip. A boil can also be found in the palm of the hand or the sole of the foot. It can be found in the breast, nostril, the earlobe, anywhere in the body as long as it is covered by skin. The characteristics of a boil are pain, swelling, redness, and sometimes, a slight fever. At the beginning, it is firm but as the days go by, it softens and becomes even more reddish. And then, without treatment, it swells around a point that turns greyish or yellowish as the core of the boil tends towards a liquid state. This is when pus forms and at this point, the boil will either rupture on its own or will have to be lanced by a healthcare professional to reduce the pressure of the pain and produce relief. As a rule, when pus has formed anywhere in the body, it is best to let it out by opening the boil. When a boil is single, it is common enough to retain its name but it is sometimes more than that when it is a combination of several boils within a small area of the skin and becomes known as a carbuncle.
Most healthy and perfectly normal people carry Staph aureus on their skin and nostrils. They, therefore, live in peace with the bacteria. However, when the skin is bruised, or torn, or lanced, and when the skin is broken by any means imaginable, these bacteria gain access to the skin by invading the hair follicles and spreading from there to the surrounding skin. In the real sense, boils cannot spread from one part of the body to another directly. However, the bacteria causing the boil can be spread from a boil in one part of the body to another by contact just as the bacteria can spread between people who have been in close contact. In some cases, the Staph aureus could cause another type of infection different from a boil. These are called carbuncles when several furuncles have grown together to form one large area of reddened swelling filled with pus. If the bacteria get into the blood, especially among people who are not that healthy as a result of some other disease, it could lead to blood poisoning and sepsis. At the common level, a boil can make one sick causing headaches, chills and fever.
There may be loss of appetite and in children, vomiting and lethargy may be consequences of having a boil. The more they are in number, the larger the load of bacteria in the body. Finally, it is useful to know that boils can be responsible for some other disturbances in the body beyond what we have discussed above. The affected limb, for example, where there is a large boil in the armpit may be almost useless for the duration of the existence of the boil because of pain. The lymph nodes in that area can also be swollen, and sometimes such enlarged lymph nodes develop some features of their own including pain. With this, there will now be pain in two places: around the boil and around the swollen lymph nodes. This is especially so with people with reduced immunity from a variety of conditions. It is not a complication of the presence of a boil but a natural reaction to its formation.
Boils, especially when they are recurrent, may point towards the presence of another disease condition in the body. Sometimes, these disease conditions have yet to be diagnosed and only diligent examination by a properly suspicious doctor can determine that the boils are a mask for something more sinister. Sometimes, boils become recurrent as a result of HIV/AIDS. Sometimes, it masks the presence of diabetes in a patient. At other times, it may occur due to a period of deep psychological stress but proper examination and the conduction of relevant tests would usually unveil what the matter is. When such diligence is not available due to the lack of suitably qualified manpower, people just go from the use of one antibiotic to another without improvement. The underlying problem will eventually be detected when the relevant tests are done. In these sets of people, who are also said to have reduced immunity, the important thing is to treat the underlying condition. Therefore, controlling the blood sugar level also helps to stop a cycle of suffering from recurrent boils. In the case of HIV/AIDS which has no treatment, the diagnosis of the condition and the use of the appropriate anti-retroviral drugs (ACT), will help to reduce the scourge of boils ultimately. headtopics.com
Boils are fairly common in man. Sometimes, when the immune status of a person is strong, the boil can rapidly reduce in size and resolve on its own within a few days. In other situations, certain home remedies are in order. You can apply a warm pack or even a hot water bottle for several hours at a time for most of the day. This helps the boil to drain and to reduce the discomfort. The use of painkillers like paracetamol also helps to further reduce the pain and diminish the tissue swelling around the boil. It is important to know that many types of boils often do not even require treatment especially when they are healthy. In some cases, though, a boil must be treated when it is on the face, around the spine, or in the nose. A doctor must have to be consulted in such situations and proper antibiotics will have to be prescribed in conjunction with analgesics. Relief can be obtained within days when such treatment is started. When pus has formed within the boil when it is now called an abscess, it will have to be drained through a minor surgical procedure performed by a doctor. Such a procedure is called incision and drainage of the pus in the offending boil. After a boil has been drained in that manner, it is important to keep the resulting wound clean with regular dressing until the boil heals completely.
Questions and answersDear doctor, thanks for your response to my inquiry a few weeks ago about the ban of Cimetidine in UAE (United Arab Emirates). Please, for how long can I use Cimetidine before I can be totally healed of my ulcer? And, does the drug have any side effects? 0912xxxxxxx
The fact that you have used this particular medication for a number of years, if memory serves, and you are getting the exact same results today means that it is not likely to cure your current problem. In the earlier response to your question, it was indicated that there are more modern, more effective medications used in the treatment of peptic ulcer and it is important, therefore, to seek a confirmation of this situation and have that treatment. The minimum that can be done is a test for Helicobacter pylori which if positive should make your doctors in the UAE place you on a triple regimen treatment to deal with your situation. More specifically, you would need to do an upper gastro-intestinal endoscopy to confirm if indeed you have an ulcer. As far as side effects are concerned, long term use of this medication can cause reduced libido and eventual erectile dysfunction. It can also make you develop breasts if you are a man in a condition known as gynaecomastia.
Dear doctor, I am 17 years old and about to attain 18. I have still not started seeing my period. I have done tests for infection but the doctor said there is nothing there. I am still a virgin. Is this normal? 0704xxxxxxxFrankly, this is not usual but it can happen. In Nigeria, the average age at which this happens is between 12 and 13 years, which is why we say it is not usual but, menstruation can happen at any age from as early as nine years to as late as 19. So it is possible that you belong to the latter group which means that if the period has not begun to flow by the time you reach 19 years of age, you will have to see a gynaecologist for proper examination and advice. An infection will not cause this to happen. headtopics.com
Dear doctor, may I thank you for the weekly health education you give us through the Sunday PUNCH. It is commendable. Late last year, my doctor told me that my blood sugar was abnormally high and that I have to watch what I eat. He placed me on a diet and since then the blood sugar has been well controlled. I stick to the diet strictly but I miss some things sometimes. Can I occasionally eat things like pizza? Last weekend, my husband brought pizza home and I was almost in tears as I was not able to participate in the tasting. What about unripe plantain chips? Thank you. 0816xxxxxxx
Thank you very much also for your support. Unripe plantain prepared in any form is an ideal food item for somebody with your kind of history. Unripe plantain chips are endorsed for you to eat. Exercise is also important and certainly, you can taste some pizza. A serving or two cannot do you harm because it is bread essentially, which you almost certainly eat. Since it is not as if you want to eat pizza as a meal or on a daily basis, you surely can take some occasionally. From what is available in your history, you are not suffering from diabetes yet and while it is good to restrain yourself from the intake of certain foods, it should not become a punishment.
Dear doctor, I am about 13 weeks pregnant now and it is my third pregnancy. I lost the second one at about 12 weeks when my blood pressure started rising to almost 160 over something and my weight two days ago was 118kg and my blood pressure was 144/94mmHg. My doctor has started me on folic acid and vasoprin, and he told me that he wants to minimise the risk of pre-eclampsia in this pregnancy. I am scared of taking any medications and I do not know if it is possible to reduce my weight during pregnancy. Thank you. 0803xxxxxxx
Thank you for your questions. Your doctor is right to be worried about your current condition. To start with, your current blood pressure even now is high and needs to be brought down. However, it is also a relative thing and it is useful to know what it was at the beginning of this pregnancy. The aspect of weight loss during pregnancy is an abnormal development that often signifies trouble. Regular weight gain in the course of pregnancy is a sign of good health really. As for the use of vasoprin at your stage of pregnancy, it is a broad agreement now among medical researchers that when this drug is used after the first trimester, which is about the stage at which you are in now, it can help prevent or reduce the risk of pre-eclampsia which is a huge problem for the expectant mother and her unborn baby when it happens. It is important for you to comply with your doctor’s prescription.
Dear doctor, I have been feeling some pain now at an injection site on my buttocks for about seven months. This is an injection I took about five years ago and the pain suddenly came back. Now, it goes down my thigh to the knee area and it is sharp as if somebody is stabbing me there with an instrument. When I am walking, I don’t feel the pain at all but if I have been sitting down for some time or lying down, to turn to the other side or get up is an ordeal; the pain I feel is terrible. I don’t know what this new development means and I need your help. I have been placed on Meconerve Forte and Ibuprofen for some time with no improvement. What should I do? 0805xxxxxxx
The pain you have could be due to some kind of nerve injury sustained when you were given the injection you have referred to. That would be part of the reason why the pain radiates down the thigh to the knee joint. This condition can be treated if you are examined by the right kind of expert. You will need to see a neurologist who may want to also have you be examined by an orthopaedic surgeon. A combination of their expertise will bring you the best outcome. So, you should try as much as possible to see these people in a hospital where such services are available. In the end, a combination of appropriate medication and physiotherapy will probably help to buy you the relief you need.
Dear doctor, greetings to you. My mother is 65 years old and has not been feeling too well. She was placed on Flagyl by her doctor. But during this past week, she began to have fever, a slight cough and headache. My brother bought her Lonart-DS to use and I was concerned because I don’t know if she can use it with Flagyl. What is your advice sir especially in the light of the essay you published recently regarding the abuse and use of Flagyl? 0813xxxxxxx
Well, even though you did not disclose what she was taking Flagyl for, it is important to let you know that she can use both medications for the treatment she needs. There should be no problems with this combination.Dear doctor, greetings to you. My son is 20 years of age and recently developed a swelling in the lower part of his tummy just above the pubic area. There are hairs there as well and the swelling is painful but there is no fever. He is in school at the moment and he sent the picture to me which I will share with you. What do you think it is and what should be done about it? Thank you very much and God bless you. 0803xxxxxxx
That looks like a furuncle, which is a type of boil that is found in hair roots. It is usually painful and responds well to supportive care made of application of warm compress. Such an application for as long as possible during a 24-hour period combined with the use of pain relief generates much relief and facilitates the rupture of the boil because it promotes drainage. However, more often than not, the use of an antibiotic together with pain relief solves the problem swiftly. The furuncle then rapidly resolves or it softens and ruptures with much relief.
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