A carbuncle, also known as staph skin infection, can be defined as a red, painful, tender, swollen cluster of boils with multiple ‘pus’ heads that form a connected area of infection under the skin. Although it might look similar to a boil or furuncle, yet a boil is a bacterial infection that starts at the hair follicle and has a small collection of pus (called an abscess) under the skin. Carbuncles are chiefly found on a hairy area of the body such as the back or nape of the neck, but it can also occur in other areas of the body such as the thighs, groin, buttocks, and armpits.
A carbuncle is usually filled with pus which is a mixture of old and white blood cells, bacteria, and dead skin cells. This pus needs to drain out to allow the carbuncle to heal but unlike boils, it often leaves behind a scar. An active boil or carbuncle is generally contagious in nature, i.e., the infection can spread from one part of the body to other parts and can even spread onto other people through skin-to-skin contact or via the sharing of personal items. To avoid contagion, it is pivotal to maintain appropriate self-care measures, like keeping the area clean and covered, until the carbuncle drains and heals. It chiefly requires proper medical intervention to prevent or manage complications, promote healing, and minimize scarring on the surface of the body.
Carbuncles usually occur due to the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, which inhabit the skin surface, throat, and nasal passages. These bacteria also referred to as ‘staph’ mainly enters the body through a hair follicle, small scrape, or puncture wound and cause an infection which ultimately results in carbuncles and furuncles. The staph bacteria mainly thrive well on moist parts of the body or parts which have heavy perspiration.
Certain causative factors that might increase the occurrence of carbuncles include:
Age: Although it is more commonly found in older individuals, it can happen to people of any age group.
Autoimmune Conditions: Autoimmune health conditions like diabetes make it more difficult for the body to fight off infections, including bacterial infections of the skin.
Others With Staph Infection: Being contagious in nature, sharing common items or being in close proximity to an infected person increases your chances of developing carbuncles yourself.
Compromised Immunity: A weakened immune system makes you more susceptible to carbuncles.
Other Disorders: Health conditions like liver or kidney disorder makes you prone to carbuncles.
Other Skin Conditions: Other skin problems, like acne and eczema, that break the surface of the skin makes you more susceptible to boils and carbuncles as well.
Poor Hygiene: People following poor hygiene habits are more at risk of developing carbuncles.
Additionally, carbuncles also can occur in healthy, fit, younger people, especially those who live together in group settings such as college dorms rooms, hostels and share items such as bed linens, towels, or clothing. In addition, people of any age can develop carbuncles due to inflammation, irritations or abrasions to the skin surface caused by wearing tight clothing, shaving, or insect bites, especially in body areas which mostly remains moist most of the time.
The most prominent symptom of a carbuncle is a red, irritated, swollen lump under the skin which is usually painful to touch. The size of the carbuncle may vary from being a size of a lentil to a medium-sized mushroom as it quickly increases in size getting filled with pus. The carbuncle eventually develops a yellow-white tip or ‘head’ that will rupture and drain the pus.
Other symptoms include:
- Itching before the lump appears
- Fever and chills
- Bodily aches
- Skin crustiness or oozing
- Swelling of nearby areas of the carbuncle
In some cases, if the carbuncle is left untreated for a long time, the staph bacteria from it can escape and enter the blood stream and travel to other parts of your body. This spreads the infection and often causes blood poisoning (sepsis), can even lead to infections deep within the body, such as your heart (endocarditis) and bone (osteomyelitis).
Diagnosis And Treatment
Do consult a doctor if you notice a small boil filled with pus that is not recovering in 2-3 days to prevent complications or if you notice a carbuncle that develops on the face, near your eyes or nose, or on your spine. The doctor usually diagnoses carbuncles by simply looking at it. The doctor may draw out a sample of the pus for the purpose of lab testing to look for recurring infections or an infection that hasn't responded to standard treatment. In the case if you keep developing carbuncles, it may be a sign of other health issues, such as diabetes, kidney or liver disorders. In such cases, the doctor may conduct other urine or blood tests to check your overall health.
The effective medical treatment for a carbuncle is as follows:
Incision and Drainage: The doctor may drain a large boil or carbuncle by making an incision in it. In case the infections are deep and cannot be drained completely, the doctor may pack it with sterile gauze to help soak up and remove additional pus.
Antibiotics: After proper removal of pus, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help heal severe or recurrent infections.
Pain relievers: The doctor may also prescribe for over-the-counter medications to provide quick relief from pain and inflammation.
Antibacterial Soaps: The doctor may suggest these soaps as a part of the daily cleaning regimen to maintain proper hygiene and avoid the infection from spreading.