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What Causes Carbuncles?

Boils are infections of hair follicles below the skin, forming bumps on the surface that fill with pus. Carbuncles are clusters of boils that have multiple heads, usually covering a single area of skin which is quite hairy such as the back or nape. However, they can also appear on the buttocks, face or thighs. It is not advisable to pick at the heads on these bumps as this could aggravate the infection or make it spread to other areas.

Most of the time these boils are caused by staph infections, caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. Normally these bacteria occupy the skin surface, nasal passages and throat, but when there is a lesion on the skin, they can invade hair follicles.

Because pus consists of old red blood cells, white blood cells bacteria and dead skin cells, the boils must be drained before they can begin to heal.

If you’re unsure what the boils on your skin are, you could consult a professional before you drain or try to treat the carbuncle yourself. We recommend these Skin specialist in Lahore, if you reside in the city.


Carbuncles initially appear as a red, irritated lump on the skin, potentially reaching the size of large coin. Over the course of a few days, the lump increases in size and fills with pus. This lump eventually develops a yellow ‘head’ that is the site of rupture and drainage. Some of the other symptoms you might experience include itchiness, bodily aches, fatigue and fever. The latter symptoms are due to the bacterial infection.


As mentioned above, the most common cause of carbuncles is a staph infection, which initially begins because of an opening in the skin barrier. This infection is very contagious, and can be acquired through contact with other people who have a staph infection themselves.

The bacteria thrive in moist areas, so areas where there is a lot of perspiration or dampness are particularly susceptible to infection.

Risk Factors

Apart from contact with someone that already has a staph infection, there are other factors that can influence whether or not you develop an infection yourself. These include:

  • Dermatitis
  • A weakened immune system
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes
  • Poor hygiene regiment
  • Open skin lesions
  • Liver disease


If the carbuncle is not severe or located in a problematic area of the body, you do not need special treatment for it, other than keeping it clean and covered. If your carbuncle is particularly large, on your face, close to your spine or has persisted for longer than two weeks, you should definitely consult a doctor.

Your doctor may in turn prescribe some of the following treatments:

  • Oral or topical antibiotics
  • Over-the-counter pain medication or medication that helps reduce irritation
  • Antibacterial soaps to hep keep any open skin wounds clean as well as neutralize any bacteria in areas surrounding the carbuncle
  • Surgery, in the case of a particularly large and painful carbuncle that cannot be easily drained

In the case of a carbuncle that does not need medical assistance, there are steps you can take to soothe it or reduce its symptoms. These include:

  • Keeping skin clean with antibacterial soap
  • Keeping any open wounds clean and covered
  • Regularly placing a warm, moist cloth on the carbuncle several times during the day for 15 minutes to help drain it

If you are not sure if your carbuncle requires medical assistance you can get a check-up done by a professional. We recommend these Skin specialist in Karachi, if you live in the city.

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