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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Boils & skin abscesses

A boil is a small painful lump in your skin that is filled with pus. It is caused by an infection. A larger deeper skin infection is called an abscess.

Boils and skin abscesses are usually caused by a bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus (staph).

Staphylococcus aureus often lives on your skin without causing any problems. But if you have a break in your skin such as a cut, the bacteria can get under your skin and cause an infection.

You are more likely to get boils if you have:

Treating boils and skin abscesses


See a health professional if:

Small boils

You can usually manage these at home. They will usually go away in a few days.

Soak a clean cloth in warm water and hold it on the boil for 10 minutes, 4 times a day. This will help the boil open up and drain.

If the boil opens, clean the skin around it and cover it until it heals over.

To stop the boil spreading:

Larger boils and abscesses

These will need to be treated by a healthcare professional.

They will usually make a cut to drain the pus. A more severe abscess may need an operation to open it up so the pus can be drained.

You may also need to have antibiotics.

Preventing boils and abscesses

Some people keep getting boils. This is usually because the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria on their skin can easily cause an infection when they have any broken skin (such as cuts or scrapes).

You can reduce your risk of getting boils by:

If you keep getting boils, your health professional may recommend that you and your household contacts have a treatment to clear the bacteria from your skin. This is known as decolonisation.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created May 2024.


Page reference: 1339601

Review key: HISNI-49791