Boils, also known as furuncles, is a bacterial or fungal infection of hair follicles that lie deep within the skin (1). The infection usually begins from a scratch or insect bite and then progresses to a red nodule filled with pus (2). Boils mostly resolve without any treatment. However, in cases where the boil is recurring or grows in size and becomes painful, immediate medical intervention is required (3).
In this MomJunction post, we tell you about the causes of boils in babies, its symptoms, diagnosis, and relevant treatment.
Are Boils Common In Babies?
Although not very common, boils are often observed in babies. A boil can develop in healthy infants, but babies with conditions such as diabetes, weakened immune system, and with existing skin infections and frequently bitten by insects are at a higher risk (4).
Where Do Boils Appear On The Body?
Babies can get boils anywhere on the body since boils can spread from one part of the body to another. However, they are most common on the face, neck, shoulders, thighs, armpits, and buttocks (4).
When boils develop, they usually look like red dots and hence are easily confused with spots. However, both the conditions are different. It is essential to know the symptoms to differentiate boils from other skin conditions.
Symptoms Of Boils In Babies
- The appearance of a white or yellow head on the inflamed area
- Increasing size and soreness of the lump
- Increasing painful
- Fever and chills
- Swelling of the nearby lymph nodes
The baby could display more symptoms depending on the cause of the boils.
When To See A Doctor?
- A boil is increasing in size or in number.
- Boils that expand and join, causing a condition called carbunculosis.
- It has become large and painful, making your baby feel uncomfortable.
- Fever of more than 100°F (37.7°C).
- Redness of the skin around the boil with uncontrollable itching.
- Recurrent boils at the same spot or other parts of the body.
- Boil appearing on the face or spine.
If a boil bursts, then it is good to see a doctor. Most boils in babies do not show severe symptoms and are manageable at home.
Home Remedies For Boils In Babies
When a boil first appears, the pus-filled cavity (abscess) is absent. In this phase, doctors might recommend the following home remedies (9).
- Warm and moist compresses: You may apply a warm and moist compress to the boil for 20 to 30 minutes, three to four times a day. This could make the boil drain. Once the boil is drained, cover the boil with a clean, antiseptic bandage to protect the infection from spreading.
- Ointment: If the boil does not drain out with warm compresses, then try using an ointment that draws (pulls) the pus out of the boil. This type of ointment is referred to as “drawing salve.” It typically contains a drug called ammonium bituminosulfonate, which causes the surface of the boil to break.
- Washing the infected area: Affected areas must be washed with an antibacterial soap. Wash your hands before and after washing the boil to prevent the spread of the boil to other parts of the baby’s body.
- Alcohol: Disinfect the area by rubbing alcohol, which is entirely harmless for the baby’s skin. Sometimes, this alone might be enough to treat boils that may have been caused by a simple infection.
- Coconut oil: If there are multiple boils on the scalp, it might be because of heat and weather. In this case, apply extra virgin coconut oil on the boils. Extra virgin coconut oil has antibacterial and emollient properties that could potentially help in healing boils (10).
- Honey, porridge, and parsley: Although these home remedies are largely anecdotal, the use of honey, porridge, and parsley may provide symptomatic relief to your baby.
- Honey: Honey is a natural antiseptic. Applying it on the ripened and drained boil can help prevent the spread of infection.
- Porridge: Place the porridge or poultice made of bread, in a cloth, soak in hot milk, and keep over the boil. It helps treat inflammation and heal the boil.
- Parsley: Boil the leaves till they turn soft. Drain off the extra water and make a compress with the boiled leaves. Applying this compress is said to heal the boil.
Always consult a doctor before using any home remedy on the baby’s skin.
Causes Of Boils In Babies
Bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus (staph), which is present on the baby’s skin, is the most common cause of boils. It usually does not cause a problem. However, an infection might develop due to the following reasons.
- Spread from an infected person: Boils can spread from an infected person to the baby (2). It is important to note that rather than boil, it is the pus in the boils that is contagious and thus the main cause of the spread of the infection.
- Other skin infections: If your baby has other skin infections, then they are more vulnerable to boils. This happens due to the weakening of the skin barrier often caused by skin problems, such as in eczema (1).
- Skin injuries or bug bites: A skin injury or a bug bite can provide a point of entry for bacteria, thus causing boils.
- Broken boils: Broken boils can cause the spread of pus from one part of the body to another. It can lead to the spread of boils to unaffected parts of the body (5).
- Poor hygiene: Poor hygiene can cause the deposition of sweat and dead skin cells within natural skin creases and crevices. It becomes a hospitable place for infection-causing bacteria, thus leading to boils (3).
- Skin friction: Tight-fitting clothes result in friction with skin and also poor skin ventilation. It can make the skin a breeding ground for bacteria and lead to boils (11).
Diagnosis Of Boils In Babies
A timely diagnosis of the cause can help prevent discomfort to the baby. Following is the possible course of diagnosis that your doctor would follow (12).
- Health history: This is the preliminary step of diagnosis. The doctor will check the symptoms and know the baby’s health history.
- Physical examination: The boil is examined to assess its severity.
- Culture: This method of diagnosis might be used in moderate to severe cases of boils. In this process, the doctor collects a sample of the pus and sends it for a bacterial culture at the laboratory. The culture will help determine the type of bacteria causing the boils.
- Blood tests: Blood tests may be done if the boils are recurring or the baby has some medical conditions (9).
The diagnosis of the underlying cause determines the course of treatment for the boils.
Treatment For Boils In Babies
Sometimes boils get better on their own or with the help of a home remedy. But if they do not, the following treatment could be prescribed (5).
1. Incision and drainage
It is the most common treatment method for boils. The doctor gives local anesthesia or uses a cooling agent to numb the area and gently slits the boil. Then, cotton gauze is used to compress and extract the pus out of the boil. The wound is not stitched but covered with an antibiotic plaster to promote healing.
The entire process is performed as a minor surgery at an outpatient clinic, and you can take the baby home after the procedure. The doctor may ask you to return the next day or a few days later to change the dressing and inspect the progress of healing.
2. Systemic antibiotics therapy
In this process, antibiotics are administered through an intravenous drip or injection. Antibiotics help combat the bacteria that led to the infection in the first place, thus ultimately leading to relief from boils. This mode of treatment is usually used in cases of severe boils that can cause complications and thus cannot be drained.
3. Keeping still
Another treatment for boils is “keeping still,” which is considered when the boil is on the face. In this method, the affected part of the skin is kept as still as possible and not touched. However, this method can be difficult to implement in babies since they are active, and it is hard to teach them to stay still or not touch a part of the face.
If your baby has secondary symptoms, such as fever, then the doctor will prescribe relevant medications.
Complication Of Boils In Babies
Prompt treatment can not only treat and heal boils but can also prevent some complications, such as those mentioned below.
- Scarring: Large boils might cause scarring. Generally, the scar fades over a period, but may not disappear completely.
- Spread of infection: Once a baby is infected, it is usually recommended to be careful about its spread. The bacteria inside a boil could spread to other parts of the body. This can potentially initiate a secondary infection such as cellulitis, which is a common benign secondary infection.
- Cavernous sinus thrombosis: CVT is a very rare complication of boils. It usually occurs when an infection initiates the development of a blood clot in the spaces behind the eye socket. This blood clot develops and begins to increase pressure on the brain, causing symptoms such as sharp and severe headaches, swelling of the eyes, and eye pain that’s often severe. This condition is life-threatening if not treated with antibiotics in a timely way.
Complications arising from boils are rare and mostly occur when severe boils are ignored and not provided medical attention. They can be prevented through simple precautionary measures.
Prevention of Boils In Babies
Here are some simple steps to prevent boils (13).
- Maintain hygiene to avoid deposition of sweat and dead skin cells in skin crevices.
- Look for symptoms of boils, and as soon as you notice any, take prompt action.
- If your baby has developed a boil, clean it carefully, and avoid the spread of the infection. Use antibacterial soap and shampoo for bathing the baby.
- Wash your baby’s clothes and towels after each use, in an antibacterial solution to avoid the spread of any existing skin infection to healthy skin.
- If your baby has an existing boil, then see to it that your baby does not rub, squeeze, or poke the boil.
- If the baby has been treated, keep the wound cleaned and covered with sterilized gauze until it heals.
- Some doctors might recommend using a bleach bath to avoid the recurrence of boils. In case you intend to try this, do consult a pediatrician (11).
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How long does a boil last?
Boils generally last for two weeks in most cases. Therefore, if the boil stays for more than two weeks and is still painful, then consult a doctor.
2. Does teething cause boil in babies?
No, teething is not known to cause boils.
Boils can be prevented by maintaining hygiene. However, if a baby gets infected, it can be managed with prompt medical care. The use of some home remedies might also be helpful in the early stages. But if treatment is prescribed, then it must be followed as directed, to avoid any complications.
Do you have tips for dealing with boils in babies? Let us know in the comment section below.
2. Boils, Abscess & Cellulitis; Healthy Children; American Academy of Pediatrics
3. Boils; Victoria State Government
4. Folliculitis, Furuncles (Boils) and Carbuncles; Children’s National
5. Boils and carbuncles: How are boils treated?; National Center For Biotechnology Information
6. How To Treat & When To Seek Help For Boils; Kids Health, NZ
7. Boils (abscesses); About Kids Health
8. Boils; Mount Sinai
9. Boils and Carbuncles; Harvard Medical School
10. Verallo-Rowell VM et al., Novel antibacterial and emollient effects of coconut and virgin olive oils in adult atopic dermatitis.; National Center for Biotechnology Information
11. Boil; Seattle Children’s
12. Boils and Carbuncles; St. Louis Children’s Hospital
13. Boils; Health Service Executive
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