Carbuncle refers to a cluster of multiple boils that develop underneath the skin. These are larger and more serious form of boils that are even more painful. They usually appear on the nape of the neck and back, as well as on the thighs, buttocks, groin, armpits and shoulders. The condition has been found to affect more men than women. They initially cause some redness and painful pus-filled bumps that are warm to the touch. Creamy white fluid will eventually ooze out from these bumps.
Carbuncle is contagious and affects several people within a household all at the same time. Treatment is necessary and should start early to prevent the toxins contained within the bumps to leak out into the blood stream and cause blood poisoning. Treatment usually involves draining the fluid and taking prescription antibiotics to treat the infection as well as speed up recovery. Good personal hygiene is very useful in preventing the infection from getting worse and spreading further.
How does it look like?
A carbuncle is composed of multiple skin boils that are clustered together beneath the skin. The size of the bumps range from a pea-sized lump to as big as a golf ball. These lumps initially appear reddish and hot; they can be constantly irritated and hurt when touched. Pus will fill the lumps over time giving them a yellowish or whitish hue at the center. After several days, the lump will rupture causing a creamy white substance, or pus, to leak out. Additional symptoms are also experienced, such as general sickness, fever and fatigue. The nearby lymph nodes are also observed to have become swollen.
Carbuncles appear like large boils on the:
- Nape of the neck
Because they occur deeply under the skin, they usually leave scars. The fluid that comes out of the pus has a terrible odor due to the gas emitted by the bacteria.
What causes carbuncle?
Carbuncles occur when Staphylococcus aureus find its way to the hair follicle and cause infection. These bacteria are normally present on the surface of the skin. However, they can penetrate deep down the skin and hair follicle through an opening on the skin, like a scratch, cut or puncture.
Moreover, the condition is contagious and spreads easily through direct skin contact and by using items infected by the bacteria. When staph bacteria enter the skin, the body usually responds by sending white blood cells to the affected site to fight the infection. This immune response results in inflammation and formation of pus. So the abscess in a carbuncle is composed of bacteria, dead skin cells and old WBCs.
Who are at risk of getting carbuncle?
Everyone is vulnerable to carbuncles, but some are more susceptible than others. This could be due to:
- Old age
Immunity usually weakens with old age and this explains why this condition is common among older people, particularly men.
Immunity also drops if a person doesn’t get enough nutrients needed by the body.
Obesity is not healthy and carries the risk of several medical conditions like diabetes, making it hard for the body to fight off skin infections.
- Living with an infected person
Carbuncle is contagious and living with someone who has it increases the likelihood of getting infected as well. Crowded living conditions are also conducive in further spreading the infection.
- Chronic skin problems
Eczema and acne are two of the most common skin problems that can give way for the staph bacteria to enter the skin and cause infection. Insect bites, shaving and tight clothing can irritate the skin and give the bacteria an entry point.
- Compromised immunity
Anything that causes the immune system to weaken exposes one to carbuncle. Examples of these are liver and kidney diseases.
How dangerous are Carbuncles?
Carbuncle can result in life-threatening complications involving:
This occurs when the bacteria find their way into the bloodstream, causing the infection to spread further. Sepsis is extremely dangerous and requires prompt medical treatment. It causes dangerously low blood pressure, high fever, increased heart rate and rapid breathing.
- Drug-resistant staphylococcus aureus
Some strain of staph bacteria are resistant to certain antibiotics like methicillin and require more powerful antibiotics.
The first thing to do in treating a carbuncle is to drain the fluid. This should only be done by a qualified healthcare professional and not at home. Squeezing the pus will only irritate it and run the risk of severe scarring and complications. The aim of the treatment is to remove all the abscesses and possibly identify the offending bacteria. Antibiotics are prescribed, though not always, but particularly for people with compromised immunity; or when the pus is not completely drained; or if the soft tissues around the lump have been infected as well. Healing will occur in 2 to 3 weeks or much longer for severely affected skin.