What Is a Carbuncle?

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  • Written By: H. Lo
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2019
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A carbuncle, a type of skin infection, is a mass under the skin formed by a group of boils. A boil is a painful lump filled with pus that grows until it ruptures and the pus drains. Usually, a carbuncle, which is contagious, occurs when a bacterial infection inflames hair follicles. When a person has more than one of these, he has carbunculosis.

The bacterial infection that usually causes boils is caused by the staph bacteria, also known as staphylococcus aureus. The bacteria make its way into the affected person through a cut or scratch and infect the hair follicle, which then causes the skin infection to develop. As the body fights the infection, inflammation occurs, and the result is the formation of pus, which is a combination of bacteria, dead skin cells and white blood cells. People who are most susceptible to a staph infection are those with certain conditions such as dermatitis and diabetes.


In comparison to a single boil, a carbuncle is a deeper, more severe condition that develops and heals at a slower rate. The main symptom of this condition is the mass itself, which can vary in size from being as small as a pea to as large as a golf ball. Pus oozes out of the center, which might be yellow or white in color. In addition, the mass might hurt and be irritated. Other symptoms that can accompany the mass are chills, fatigue and fever, as well as itchy skin prior to the development of the mass.

To heal, a carbuncle needs to drain; it will usually do this on its own within two weeks. During this time, a warm cloth will help drain the mass, as well as relieve pain. Other than this, an affected person most likely will not need to seek treatment unless there are certain circumstances. A mass that does not heal within two weeks, for example, might require professional attention. Other circumstances include if the mass goes away, but returns often, or if it is on the middle of a person’s face, or on his spine.

To treat the mass, a doctor can drain it, and he might also prescribe antibiotics. Draining the mass will require the doctor to make a small incision, and in general, antibiotics might be useful for a mass that keeps returning. While a doctor might be qualified to make an incision into a carbuncle, an affected person should not try to do this at home because he risks spreading the infection.


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