Last reviewed by Dr.Mary on February 1st, 2019.

What is a Carbuncle?

Carbuncles, as well as boils, are pus-filled, painful bumps that develop beneath the skin by bacterial infection and inflammation in one or more hair follicles.

Carbuncles usually begin as tender, red lumps. The lumps can rapidly fill up with pus, growing larger in size and become very painful. A carbuncle is a bunch of boils which develop an area of infection beneath the skin.

An individual can normally care for carbuncles or boils at home, but one should not attempt to squeeze or prick it. This can cause the infection to spread to other areas. You should call your primary care physician if a carbuncle or boil is severely painful, lasts more than two weeks or happens with fever.

Symptoms of Carbuncle

Carbuncles are a group of boils which usually occur on the back of the neck, thighs or shoulders. Carbuncles:

  • Cause deeper and very severe infections than a single boil can
  • Develop and begin to heal much more slowly than a single boil does
  • Are very liable to leave scars

Symptoms and signs that can go with carbuncles include:

  • Grow fast
  • Have yellow or white center
  • Ooze, weep, or crust
  • Spread to other areas of the body

Often, other symptoms can occur. These can include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Sick feeling or general discomfort
  • Itching skin before carbuncle develops

You should see your physician if you have:

  • A carbuncle on the spine or face
  • A carbuncle that rapidly worsens or severely hurts
  • Carbuncles that are extremely large and have not healed within two weeks or are accompanied by fever
  • Recurrent boils
  • A problem which suppresses the immune system, such as organ transplants, HIV infection, corticosteroid usage
  • Recently been in the hospital
  • Older adults and children who develop one or more boils or carbuncles also should receive medical care.

What are the Causes of Carbuncles?

Carbuncles normally develop when one or more hair follicles – the shafts which are tube-shaped from which hair grows – develop a staph infection (Staphylococcus aureus). This type of bacteria that is usually an inhabitant of the skin and nasal passages are the cause of numerous severe diseases including endocarditis and pneumonia. Endocarditis is an infection which develops in the heart lining. Staph infections are major causes of infections acquired in the hospital.

Staph bacteria which cause carbuncles, as well as boils, usually enter the body through a scratch, a cut, or any other skin break. This causes inflammation and ultimately pus formation – which is a mixture of old white blood cells, dead skin cells as well as bacteria.

Anyone can develop boils or carbuncles including individuals who are healthy. The following features can increase the risk:

Close contact with individuals who have an infection with staph bacteria

You are most probable to grow staph infections if you live with somebody who currently is suffering from carbuncles or boils.


Diabetes can cause complications for the body to battle any infection, especially any bacterial infections of the skin.

Further skin problems

Since they damage the skin’s defensive barrier, skin problems such as eczema as well as acne make an individual more vulnerable to carbuncles and boils.

Immunity is compromised

If you have an immune system which is compromised for any reason, you are more vulnerable to carbuncles as well as boils.

Other causes of carbuncles include:

  • Poor hygiene
  • The friction of clothing or shaving
  • Poor overall health

There are normally a few complications of carbuncles and boils, but they can be severe. They include:

Sepsis of the blood or blood poisoning

Bacteria from carbuncles can invade the bloodstream and migrate to other areas of the body. The infection which spreads is known as blood sepsis or poisoning that can cause infections deep inside the body.


Another severe complication is the appearance of strains of staph which are drug-resistant. Almost half of the staph bacteria which are in hospitals are defiant to many commonly used antibiotics.


Abscess of the brain, spinal cord, skin or organs such as the kidneys



An individual normally can treat carbuncles at home by merely applying warm compresses to promote natural drainage as well as relieve pain. They should clear up on their own in less than two weeks.

Placing a moist, warm cloth on the carbuncle will aid in draining and fast healing. Gently soak the area with a moist, warm cloth several times daily. Never squeeze a carbuncle or attempt to cut it open at home as this could cause the infection to spread and become worse.

If the boils or carbuncles are huge (some carbuncles can be as large as golf balls), treatment normally includes draining the boil of carbuncles by an incision as well as often taking antibiotics:

Incision and drainage

Your physician can drain big boil or carbuncle by first creating a small opening in the tip. This will relieve the pain, speed healing and helps decrease scarring. Infections which are deep and cannot be drained should be packed with gauze so the pus can keep on to draining.


Often your physician can advise antibiotics to aid in the healing of serious or persistent infections or infections which can be caused by MRSA. There are also antibacterial soaps.

Good hygiene is vital to prevent the infection from spreading. Always wash your hands after touching a carbuncle. Do not reuse or share towels or washcloths. Washcloths, towels, clothing, as well as sheets or other items, need to be washed in very hot water. Bandages need to be changed frequently and thrown away in tightly closed bags.

Carbuncle Pictures

  1. I’m really pleased with what I’ve learnt now. I came across this word while reading a book and decided to check on it myself. I’m really glad that I’ve learnt something new today.

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