Children's Hospital


Children and Folliculitis, Boils, and Carbuncles

What are folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles?

Folliculitis is the inflammation of hair follicles due to an infection, injury, or irritation. It is characterized by tender, swollen areas that form around hair follicles. These are often on the neck, breasts, buttocks, and face.

Boils are pus-filled lesions that are painful and usually firm. Boils are usually located in the waist area, groin, buttocks, and under the arm.

Carbuncles are clusters of boils. These are usually found on the back of the neck or thigh.

What are the symptoms of folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles?

The following are the most common symptoms of folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles. However, each child may experience symptoms differently.

Symptoms for folliculitis may include:

  • Pus in the hair follicle

  • Irritated and red follicles

  • Damaged hair

  • Itching

  • Acne-like pustules

Symptoms for boils may include:

  • Pus in the center of the boil

  • Whitish, bloody discharge from the boil

  • Pain and warmth around the area

Symptoms for carbuncles (clusters of boils) may include:

  • Pus in the center of the boils

  • Whitish, bloody discharge from the boils

  • Fever

  • Fatigue

The symptoms of folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles may look like other skin conditions. Always talk with your child's health care provider for a diagnosis.

How are folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles diagnosed?

Diagnosis of folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles are made by your child's health care provider after a thorough medical history and physical exam. After examining the lesions, your child's health care provider may culture the wounds. This is done to obtain a sample of the drainage of the wound, allow it to grow in the lab, and identify specific bacteria. This culture can help confirm the diagnosis and help in selecting the best treatment.

Treatment for folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles

Specific treatment for folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles will be decided by your child's health care provider based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the condition

  • Your child's tolerance for specific medicines, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Topical and/or antibiotics (for folliculitis)

  • Antibacterial soaps and washes

  • For carbuncles and boils, a warm compress may be used to help promote drainage of the lesion

  • Oral or intravenous (IV) antibiotics (to treat the infection)

  • Incision and drainage for removal of the boils and carbuncles

Carbuncles heal more slowly than a single boil. Keeping the skin clean helps to prevent these conditions from happening

Online Medical Reviewer: Berman, Kevin, MD, PhD
Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Last Review Date: 4/29/2015
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