Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

A furuncle is a skin infection involving the entire hair follicle and the underlying skin tissue.

What is going on in the body?

Staphylococcal bacteria are normally found on the skin surface. Damage to the hair follicle allows the bacteria to enter deeper into the tissues of the hair follicle and the underlying tissue. Hair follicles can become inflamed on any area of the body. Blocked sweat glands or ingrown hairs may contribute to the formation of a furuncle. They are most likely to develop on areas that are subjected to constant friction, sweating, or rubbing by clothing or athletic gear.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

Furuncles are caused by an acute, localized staphylococcal infection which produces an abscess of the skin and underlying tissue. Furuncles are more common in people who:

  • are overweight or obese
  • have diabetes
  • have poor hygiene
  • use intravenous (IV) drugs

Symptoms & Signs

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?

Furuncles are seen most often on the back of the neck, face, buttocks, thighs, groin, breast, or in the underarm area. The lesions are raised, tender, shiny, and bright red. Intense, throbbing pain is common with a furuncle. As the furuncle matures, it becomes filled with a yellow or white creamy discharge. The person may have a fever and feel fatigued.

Diagnosis & Tests

How is the condition diagnosed?

Diagnosis is made on the appearance of the skin. Skin cultures may show staphylococcus or other bacteria.

Prevention & Expectations

What can be done to prevent the condition?

Prevention of furuncles includes good hygiene, use of antibacterial soap, avoiding intravenous drug use, and wearing loose clothing that allows air to circulate.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

Chronically infected and inflamed hair follicles can be quite painful and annoying. This condition can lead to permanent scarring.

What are the risks to others?

Bacteria that cause furuncles may be spread to other members of the household by direct contact.

Treatment & Monitoring 

What are the treatments for the condition?

Furuncles may burst, drain, and then heal on their own without treatment. This usually happens within a week. Warm, moist compresses applied to the furuncle help to promote drainage. This is done by soaking the area with a warm, moist cloth several times a day. Sometimes the furuncle may need to be surgically drained. Antibiotics may be used to control the infection.

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Antibiotics may cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and in some cases an allergic reaction. There are possible side effects with any surgery. These include bleeding, infection, and allergic reactions to the anesthesia.

What happens after treatment for the condition?

Furuncles will go away with treatment, but some people have recurrences.

How is the condition monitored?

A person with a furuncle should call a healthcare provider if a fever develops, or if the furuncle doesn’t heal within a week. Any other new or worsening symptoms should also be reported to the healthcare provider.

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