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By Sasha de Beausset Aparicio, MSc

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What Is Carbuncle

Carbuncle is a group of infection-like boils, which forms under the skin, usually in the area of hair roots. Its appearance is similar to a red swollen lump in the skin, and with a white or yellow center if pus has developed. Untreated, it can lead to necrosis of the infected area or even death. Though is caused by bacteria or staph infections, it is highly contagious. It usually appears on the neck area, back and lower back, and hands, but there can be exceptions.


There are no direct causes for this disorder, but most cases are associated with a previous infection like Staphylococcus aureus or other bacteria. Any people with weak immune systems can develop an infection which will lead to carbuncle. Causes for the infections are multiple, and can vary from environment exposure to day to day routine.

Wearing tight clothes can cause this illness, as through friction lesions can be formed on the skin through which bacteria can enter the body and start infections. This can also happen through hair follicles, which usually leads to the infection starting at the roots and then evolving towards lymphatic glands and fat cells. Poor hygiene is well-known to be a causative factor, through which the level of exposure to bacteria and other pathogens is raised, leading to a wider spread of the illness and also much more weakened immune systems, which multiplies the cause.
Other illnesses can be a stress factor upon the immune system or even attack it, and so raising the possibility of an infection which can lead to the disorder. Patients with diabetes, anemia or rheumatism seem to reach the conditions for the appearance of carbuncle much easier than others. Malnutrition or even obesity can be a cause in the appearance of the carbuncle, as people with these conditions usually present themselves with weakened immune systems.

Signs & Symptoms

Swollen skin area with a red appearance that is followed by a white yellow center from where a usually smelly liquid drains is the first sign of carbuncle. Sometimes the pus does not break the skin, and no apparent visible signs of it can be seen, but that can only mean that the pus bag is deep under the skin. Depending on the nature of the infection, the skin around it can crust, causing itching sensations, or even pain when touched.

The size may vary from small to almost a golf ball size. This does not necessarily mean that the infection is less serious; in fact it can quickly spread through the body at alarming rates in certain conditions.

Fever is also a good indicator of the infection, especially when the other symptoms predate it. Any sign that the body feels weak and tired should be taken into consideration, as in some cases the bacteria can leave the area of the carbuncle and spread to other parts of the body. The stress the infection has upon the body can lead to sleep problems, and eating disorders or incapability.

Diagnosis Carbuncle

The first priority is finding the source of the infection, as certain medication can obstruct the treatment. If the medication stresses the immune system and does not take care of the infection, the body can be severely damaged as it is much easier for it to spread.

An early diagnosis can be determined if signs of the early stages are visible on the skin, but this does not occur in all cases. If the doctor determines that more tests are necessary, samples of the puss can be extracted to analysis in the laboratory, which can give an answer to which bacteria is the cause of the infection.

Treatment for Carbuncle

The treatment depends on the development stages the disease has passed through, as it depends on the areas infected. In the cases of less severe infections, the patient can take care of it at home, besides respecting the prescribed medication. Usually it involves using a warm wet cloth to keep the area moist and clean. By doing this, the carbuncle can drain itself much easier and faster. In under any conditions there should not be any attempt to drain it quickly by pressing or squeezing it, this will lead to an early release of the bacteria into the blood stream and to a much more severe case of infection.

The medication usually involves antibiotics, in restriction to what the doctor prescribes after tests, and body strengthening ones, depending on the person’s health condition. Infections that appear around the neck or on any part of the head have a high priority, due to the fact that they can cause severe complications to the brain and brain area that can lead to meningitis or abscesses.

Hygiene is important during treatment and as a preemptive method. Being contagious, contact with other people directly or indirectly through clothes and objects should be avoided. This is a risk factor for both the patient and people around them, because besides the fact that the infection can spread to others, it puts the patient in contact with new other possible bacteria that can severely affect them, being in an already weakened state. Antibacterial cleaning products can be used as a safety measure, but only when the doctor allows it.
Any type of physical trauma should be avoided, as it is much easier for bacteria to come in contact with our bodies through lesions on the skin in any area. In the case of a trauma, seek to sterilize and bandage the area as quickly as possible.

If the ailment is not gone after two weeks, a doctor’s assistance is absolutely necessary, as it is a sign of other infection sources or that the source does not respond to treatment, which can lead to heart failure and many other complications that can be fatal.

The most effective preemptive treatment is how we manage every chronic disease we have, being aware of all the factors that are involved and taking a rational approach by not ignoring any changes in our condition or omitting details given to doctors.