A furuncle is a skin infection involving the entire hair follicle and the underlying skin tissue.
Staphylococcal bacteria are normally found on the skin surface. Damage to the hair follicle allows the bacteria to enter deeper into the tissues of the hair follicle and the underlying tissue. Hair follicles can become inflamed on any area of the body. Blocked sweat glands or ingrown hairs may contribute to the formation of a furuncle. They are most likely to develop on areas that are subjected to constant friction, sweating, or rubbing by clothing or athletic gear.
Furuncles are caused by an acute, localized staphylococcal infection which produces an abscess of the skin and underlying tissue. Furuncles are more common in people who:
Furuncles are seen most often on the back of the neck, face, buttocks, thighs, groin, breast, or in the underarm area. The lesions are raised, tender, shiny, and bright red. Intense, throbbing pain is common with a furuncle. As the furuncle matures, it becomes filled with a yellow or white creamy discharge. The person may have a fever and feel fatigued.
Diagnosis is made on the appearance of the skin. Skin cultures may show staphylococcus or other bacteria.
Prevention of furuncles includes good hygiene, use of antibacterial soap, avoiding intravenous drug use, and wearing loose clothing that allows air to circulate.
Chronically infected and inflamed hair follicles can be quite painful and annoying. This condition can lead to permanent scarring.
Bacteria that cause furuncles may be spread to other members of the household by direct contact.
Furuncles may burst, drain, and then heal on their own without treatment. This usually happens within a week. Warm, moist compresses applied to the furuncle help to promote drainage. This is done by soaking the area with a warm, moist cloth several times a day. Sometimes the furuncle may need to be surgically drained. Antibiotics may be used to control the infection.
Antibiotics may cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and in some cases an allergic reaction. There are possible side effects with any surgery. These include bleeding, infection, and allergic reactions to the anesthesia.
Furuncles will go away with treatment, but some people have recurrences.
A person with a furuncle should call a healthcare provider if a fever develops, or if the furuncle doesn't heal within a week. Any other new or worsening symptoms should also be reported to the healthcare provider.
Author:Lynn West, MD
Editor:Wendel, Sandra J., BA
Reviewer:Gail Hendrickson, RN, BS
Hill, Marcia J. Skin Disorders: Mosby's Clinical Nursing Series, 1994
The Merck Manual of Medical Information, 1997