Boils (cont.)

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What is the prognosis (outcome) for a boil?

The majority of boils in healthy people resolve on their own with home care (described above) without forming a scar. The prognosis is also excellent for boils that are treated in the health-care setting by opening or lancing. Antibiotics may or may not be required after a boil has been lanced by a health-care professional. Complications of a boil are rare and are more likely to occur in people with suppressed immune systems. Complications include a worsening or spreading to adjacent areas of skin or soft tissue and very rarely, spread of the infection through the bloodstream to sites elsewhere in the body. Sometimes a boil may be caused by an organism typically associated with more serious infections, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), with a risk of spreading this infection to deeper tissues. Recurrence of the infection is another possible complication, which is more likely in certain types of boils. Recurrence is most common in hidradenitis suppurativa and may also occur in situations in which the cause of the boil or abscess is persistent, such as the clogging of oil ducts seen in cystic acne.

What can be done to prevent boils (abscesses)?

There are some measures that people can take to prevent boils from forming, although boils are not completely preventable. Good hygiene and the regular use of antibacterial soaps can help to prevent bacteria from building up on the skin. This can reduce the chance for the hair follicles to become infected and prevent the formation of boils. In some situations, a health-care professional may recommend special cleansers such as pHisoderm to even further reduce the bacteria on the skin. When the hair follicles on the back of the arms or around the thighs are continually inflamed, regular use of an abrasive brush (loofah brush) in the shower can be used to help break up oil plugs and buildup around hair follicles.

Pilonidal cysts can be prevented by avoiding continuous direct pressure or irritation of the buttock area when a local hair follicle becomes inflamed. At that point, regular soap and hot water cleaning and drying can be helpful.

For acne and hidradenitis suppurativa (see above), topical or oral antibiotics may be required on a long-term basis to prevent recurrent abscess formation. As mentioned above, surgical resection of sweat glands in the involved skin may be necessary. Other medications, such as isotretinoin (Accutane), can be used for cystic acne and have been helpful in some patients with hidradenitis suppurativa. Recurrences are common in patients with hidradenitis suppurativa.

Finally, surgery may occasionally be needed, especially for pilonidal cysts that recur but also for hidradenitis suppurativa. For pilonidal cysts, surgically removing the outer shell of the cyst is important to clear the boil. The procedure is typically performed in the operating room. For hidradenitis suppurativa, extensive involvement can require surgical repair by a plastic surgeon.


Longo, D.L., et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 18th ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2011.

Satter, Elizabeth Kline. "Folliculitis." Dec. 11, 2013. <>.

Singhal, Hemant. "Skin and Soft Tissue Infections - Incision, Drainage, and Debridement." May 8, 2012. <>.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/9/2015

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