Carbuncle Explanation

Doctors understand a carbuncle to be a deep and usually very painful suppuration of several hair follicles that grow together to form a purulent knot. A bacterial infection is usually responsible for the inflammation. Carbuncles must be treated by a doctor to prevent the bacteria from spreading.

What is a carbuncle?

The boils initially appear as small, usually reddish and painful bumps. The bumps can appear anywhere on the body. See AbbreviationFinder for abbreviations related to Carbuncle.

A carbuncle is a painful, purulent growth of several adjacent hair follicles. Hair follicles consist of the respective hair root and the sebaceous gland. If it becomes inflamed, experts speak of a furuncle. Especially in people weakened by old age or illness, several boils can grow together, which is referred to as a carbuncle.

A carbuncle manifests itself as a red and clearly warmed up swelling, later filled with pus, which is usually very painful. Basically, carbuncles can appear anywhere on the body. They occur particularly frequently on the buttocks, in the groin area, in the armpits or in the neck.


A carbuncle and the preceding furuncle are caused by a bacterial infection. It is usually the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus that penetrates the skin through a so-called smear infection.

The resulting infection is a defense reaction of the body, which wants to fight the bacteria. Certain previous illnesses that weaken the organism can promote the development of one or more furuncles and thus also a carbuncle.

These include AIDS, diabetes and other diseases that affect the immune system of the affected person. A lack of personal hygiene and the associated clogged pores can also contribute to the development of boils or even carbuncles.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

The boils initially appear as small, usually reddish and painful bumps. The bumps can appear anywhere on the body. They fill with pus as the disease progresses and develop weeping or crusting growths. Over the course of a few days, the carbuncles increase in size and spread to neighboring regions of the body.

Eventually, the boils break open and a thick, usually white or reddish liquid comes out. A superficial carbuncle is at risk of forming a scar. Deep -seated growths can leave large skin changes and are often accompanied by accompanying symptoms. Larger or numerous carbuncles can often lead to fever and a general feeling of being unwell.

Those affected feel ill and exhausted, and their sense of well-being is greatly reduced due to the pain and itching . Externally, carbuncles also show up as swelling in the surrounding tissue. The lymph nodes in the neck, groin or armpit are usually also affected by swelling. If left untreated, the boil can cause further complications. In the worst case, this can lead to blood poisoning or neurological symptoms, always depending on which part of the body the pathogens are carried to.

Diagnosis & History

A carbuncle can usually be diagnosed by the attending physician simply by looking at the purulent swelling and by talking to the patient in detail. In addition, a swab can be taken to determine the exact pathogen.

Palpation of the skin and lymph nodes can help determine the extent of the inflammation. A furuncle or carbuncle should always be treated by a doctor, since without appropriate therapy it can lead to an infection of the lymphatic vessels or even blood poisoning.

If furuncles and carbuncles appear on the face, the bacteria can migrate to the brain and cause a thrombosis there, which puts the patient’s life in acute danger.


A carbuncle must always be examined and treated by a doctor. If left untreated, the bacteria can spread to other parts of the body. In the worst case, it can also lead to blood poisoning. Without treatment, this usually leads to the death of the patient and can significantly reduce life expectancy.

The bacteria can also spread to the brain and thus lead to paralysis or other neurological problems. These can lead to further limitations in the patient’s everyday life. In many cases, the carbuncle does not need treatment if it is relatively small and will heal on its own. If it does not heal on its own, antibiotics and other medication can also be used to relieve the symptoms.

Likewise, the affected person is usually dependent on bed rest and suffers from reduced resilience. Increased personal hygiene is often necessary to prevent the carbuncle from forming again. With proper treatment, life expectancy is not reduced and there are no particular complications.

When should you go to the doctor?

If a painful skin change is noticed, a doctor should be consulted in any case. Inflammation, bleeding or circulatory disorders require a quick examination by the family doctor. Neurological symptoms indicate that the pathogens have already spread to the brain and should therefore be clarified quickly. The affected person should also consult a doctor if the symptoms rapidly increase in intensity or other unusual symptoms appear.

If you have an abscess on your face, you should always see a doctor as a precaution. If other symptoms occur, such as fever or chills, medical advice is also required. If a reddish streak runs from the abscess towards the heart, there may be blood poisoning. Here, too, the person concerned must immediately go to a doctor’s office or a hospital. Children should be taken to the pediatrician with a hair follicle. A doctor should perform a check-up a few days after the carbuncle is removed. The appropriate doctor is the dermatologist or a general practitioner.

Treatment & Therapy

If the purulent swelling that occurs is a furuncle or even a carbuncle, the patient must under no circumstances manipulate it himself. Expressing it, for example, can cause the pathogens to spread further and the condition to worsen significantly.

Small boils often heal on their own. A carbuncle, on the other hand, should always be treated by a doctor to prevent complications. If the swelling is particularly large or deep, the doctor treating you can decide to surgically open the carbuncle, for example.

The pus is drained and the pus cavity is disinfected to prevent the infection from spreading again. In addition, antibiotics can help fight the responsible bacteria. If surgical opening is not necessary, antibiotics and a so-called traction ointment can be used alone. Wet compresses can also help, as can wearing light, loose clothing.

In the case of abscesses on the face, treatment is usually only medicinal; the patient must then remain in bed to stop the bacteria from migrating to the brain. If boils and carbuncles recur, the doctor will examine the patient more closely to determine the cause of the infections.

Outlook & Forecast

The prognosis is favorable with a carbuncle. If the person concerned goes for medical treatment, medical care initiates a fight against the pathogens. By administering medicines, the existing bacteria are combated and the symptoms are alleviated. In most cases, no further visit to the doctor is necessary, so that the symptoms are completely free of symptoms within a few days or weeks.

If unforeseeable complications occur due to certain active ingredients of the prescribed preparations, the treatment plan must be optimized. Various preparations are available to the doctor, which can be exchanged. Healing delays are possible, but in most cases freedom from symptoms is achieved.

Without the use of medical assistance, the spread of the pathogens in the organism is to be expected. In most cases, the functional activity of the body’s own defense system is not sufficient to defend itself sufficiently against the multiplication of bacteria. Complaints increase and the general state of health of the person concerned deteriorates.

Although the prognosis for a carbuncle is good, the symptoms can return at any time in life. If medical care is sought as quickly as possible, the prognosis can be described as favorable even if the symptoms break out again.


In many cases, the development of a carbuncle can be prevented by strict personal hygiene and a healthy lifestyle. However, should boils occur, for example due to a weakened immune system, they should be treated appropriately to prevent the formation of a painful and potentially dangerous carbuncle.

Furuncles should therefore always be examined by a doctor, even if they initially appear harmless to the person concerned. This is especially true for abscesses occurring on the face.


Follow-up care aims to ensure that a new disease is detected at an early stage. Therefore, it is used especially in cancer. Doctors promise better treatment options. In the context of carbuncle therapy, however, this aspect plays no role. A carbuncle can reappear at any time due to an external bacterial infection, but after healing it is not caused by the initial infection.

Patients can protect themselves in everyday life with self-responsible aftercare measures. These include avoiding nicotine consumption and adequate hygiene. The doctor treating you will inform you about possible protective measures during the initial therapy. Furthermore, the aftercare aims at an everyday support, through which the patients lead a life as free of symptoms as possible.

Treating a carbuncle sometimes leaves scars. If these remain in a visible place, they can represent a psychological burden. Psychotherapy can then strengthen self-confidence as part of the aftercare. Complications and irreparable damage usually arise when carbuncles are treated late.

Blood poisoning transports the pathogens to other parts of the body. Neurological disorders and altered brain activity may require lifelong maintenance treatment. Suitable therapies depend on the symptoms and are agreed individually. Aids and medicines may have to be used.

You can do that yourself

A carbuncle does not necessarily need to be treated by a doctor. The bump will usually heal on its own after a few days if washed regularly and kept clean. Boil towels, rags or clothing after contact with the growth. Physical contact with other people should be avoided temporarily.

Healing can be supported by various home remedies and measures. Warm compresses that are applied to the carbuncle two to three times a day for 20 minutes each have proven effective . Honey relieves the itching and can also be applied in the form of a compress or as a classic ointment. In general, measures that strengthen the immune system also help: regular exercise, a change in diet or intestinal cleansing. An effective homeopathic remedy is belladonna. Ointments and gels with arnica help against swelling, while pain is best treated with Hepar sulfuris.

After the boil has opened, the healing process can be supported by St. John’s wort. If the carbuncle has not disappeared after a week or two at the latest, a doctor’s visit is recommended.