What causes a carbuncle?

A carbuncle develops when multiple hair follicles become infected by bacteria or fungus from the skin. Staphylococcus aureus is the type of bacteria most commonly associated with boils and carbuncles. The presence of infection draws in white blood cells from the body’s immune system to combat the infection. However, if the infection does not resolve quickly, pockets of bacteria, dead cells and fluids can develop, resulting in the formation of a carbuncle. The infection that causes carbuncles can be contagious; therefore, care should be taken to limit the spread of the infection.

Careful, frequent hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of infection. More and more superficial skin infections are caused by antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, even outside the clinic/hospital environment. Treating these challenging infections is expensive and takes longer than ordinary skin infections.

What are the risk factors for a carbuncle?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing carbuncles. Not all people with risk factors will get carbuncles. Risk factors for carbuncles include:

  • Acne
  • Conditions that weaken the immune system, such as immunosuppressant drugs used in chemotherapy
  • Dermatomyositis (condition characterized by muscle inflammation and skin rash)
  • Diabetes (chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy)
  • Eczema (skin inflammation)
  • Overall poor health
  • Poor hygiene
  • Skin damage caused by abrasive rubbing

Reducing your risk of carbuncles

You may be able to lower your risk of carbuncles by:

  • Avoiding direct contact with infected areas on other people
  • Maintaining good general health and skin hygiene practices


What is a carbuncle?

A carbuncle is a group of boils (infections associated with hair follicles) on the skin. A carbuncle forms when a number of boils group together to form one lump, or when multiple hair follicles become infected at once. When multiple carbuncles form, the condition is known as carbunculosis.

Carbuncles are typically triggered by bacterial infection of the hair follicles, usually by... Read more about carbuncleintroduction


What are the symptoms of a carbuncle?

Carbuncles develop as bulges under the skin. The skin around a carbuncle may become tender and bright red in color. Carbuncles and large boils may require treatment from a health care provider.

Common symptoms of carbuncles

You may notice symptoms of carbuncles daily or just once in a while. At times, any of these symptoms can be severe:


How is a carbuncle treated?

Individual boils should heal on their own after several weeks, but larger boils and carbuncles may require medical treatment. You should never attempt to force a carbuncle to open or drain, since doing so could spread the infection. Once a carbuncle starts to drain, the area surrounding it should be cleaned often using warm, damp cloths or gauze.

Medical treatment for carbuncles i... Read more about carbuncletreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Skin, Hair and Nails

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