What is a furuncle vs. an abscess?
The skin is the barrier between the world around you and the organs and tissues in your body. If something damages it, harmful organisms can enter it and cause problems. Furuncles and abscesses are large bumps that can appear after bacteria have entered the body through an area of damaged skin.
Learn what causes furuncles and abscesses, how to recognize them, and how they are treated.
Furuncles and abscesses are both infectious conditions that occur in the skin. They can both swell, develop pus, and can be contagious. It’s important to know what they are so that you can take appropriate steps to treat them and keep an infection from spreading.
What is a furuncle?
A furuncle is commonly called a boil. Boils form when bacteria infects a hair follicle. The bacteria enter the hair follicle if it is damaged and causes the infection. Skin cells begin to die, and your body sends white blood cells to fight the infection. Pus forms inside the hair follicle, and it becomes inflamed and painful.
What is an abscess?
An abscess is a bacterial infection that goes into the hypodermis—the connective tissue between the muscles and skin—and possibly deeper. Bacteria enter through a cut, wound, or even a mosquito bite and begin to infect the tissue. White blood cells are sent in by your body to fight the infection and pus forms.
Abscesses can also form around surgical sites in your body, or from deeper injuries if bacteria have moved in. They can form by an organ, or in between connective tissues.
What are the symptoms of a furuncle vs. an abscess?
Furuncles and abscesses have many of the same symptoms. You may not be able to tell the difference initially. If you have a boil and don’t treat it, it can spread farther down into the skin and cause an abscess.
Symptoms of a furuncle
If you have a furuncle, it might grow to the size of a walnut. You also might experience:
- Warmth around the infected area
- A red bump
- A red bump with yellowish pus in the center
- Another boil forming next to the original one
Symptoms of an abscess
Abscesses are deeper than boils, so the physical signs might take longer to appear. You may not even know you have an abscess if it is under a tooth or inside your body. If you have an abscess, you might experience:
What are the causes of a furuncle vs. an abscess?
Furuncles and abscesses are most commonly caused by the staphylococcus (staph) bacteria. However, the bacteria are let in for different reasons. Left untreated, a furuncle can turn into a cluster of boils (known as a carbuncle) or an abscess.
Causes of a furuncle
Bacteria can get into the hair follicle if it is damaged. You can damage the hair follicle and pore by squeezing to pop a pimple, scratching a bump, or through some other external action. Once there is an opening in the pore, bacteria can enter and begin attacking the skin cells.
Skin cells begin to die, and the body sends in white blood cells to attack the bacteria. Pus begins to form as bacteria and cells die, and the furuncle swells and becomes red and painful.
Causes of an abscess
Bacteria enter your skin through a cut, scratch, puncture, or another type of damage. Usually, the damage is deeper than the skin, which allows the bacteria to attack tissue under the skin. The process is the same and pus forms. There is usually more swelling, and the abscess becomes larger than a boil.
How to diagnose a furuncle vs. an abscess
It might be difficult to tell the difference between an abscess and a furuncle by yourself. If you identify one or more of the symptoms on your own, it is best to see a doctor for further diagnosis.
Doctors can usually tell the difference between a boil and an abscess, but they may take some pus samples to send to the lab for testing. This can tell them which bacteria caused the infection and can help them determine the right treatment.
Your doctor might also take some blood samples to see if the bacteria has spread. Testing helps them figure out if you have any other conditions that put you more at risk of developing infections.
If the abscess is underneath the skin or cannot be seen, the doctor will have to use imaging such as computed tomography or ultrasound to find and diagnose it.
Treatments for a furuncle vs. an abscess
It’s critical to seek treatment from a doctor as soon as you identify the signs or symptoms of a boil or abscess. Infections can spread quickly if left untreated. Once your doctor determines you have a furuncle or abscess, they will begin treatment by draining it. Draining may involve a small cut at the site to open it, draining the pus with sterile gauze, then disinfecting it.
If your abscess is underneath the skin or in your body, they will likely use a technique called percutaneous abscess drainage. Doctors insert a needle through the skin to the abscess and use a catheter to drain the pus. Draining can take up to a few days to complete.
Once drainage is complete for both types of infection, doctors prescribe an antibiotic regimen to treat any further bacterial infection or bacteria that are left.
Latest Skin News
Daily Health News
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
John Hopkins Medicine: "Folliculitis, Boils, and Carbuncles."
Merck Manual: “Abscess.”
National Center for Biotechnology Information: “Boils and Carbuncles: Overview.”
Seminars in Interventional Radiology: “Complications of Percutaneous Fluid Drainage.”
Top Difference Between a Furuncle and an Abscess Related Articles
Skin Diseases: 15 Uncommon Skin ConditionsGenetic illnesses, health conditions, or infections cause your skin to react in unusual ways. Learn about these conditions and what they can do to skin.
Abscessed ToothAn abscessed tooth is an infection within a tooth that has spread to the root. Symptoms of an abscessed tooth may include pain, swelling, tenderness, redness, and the presence of a pus-filled lesion on the gum. A dental professional diagnoses an abscessed tooth and dental X-rays may be required. An abscessed tooth is treated with a root canal.
Are Boils Contagious?A boil is a hair follicle that has been infected with bacteria. Boils can spread if a person's boil touches another person. Treatment typically involves draining the boil and using topical and/or oral antibiotics to eliminate the bacteria inside the boil.
What Are Boils (Skin Abscesses)?A boil is a skin abscess, a collection of pus localized deep in the skin. There are several different types of boils. Among them are the following: furuncle or carbuncle, cystic acne, hidradenitis suppurativa, and pilonidal cyst.
Boils SlideshowWhen are boils dangerous? How many days do boils last? Can a boil go away on its own? Boils are pus filled skin infections that may lead to more serious secondary infections. They are also called furuncles. Learn what boils look like, how to tell a boil from a cyst or a pimple, and what kinds of infections cause boils.
Furuncle (S. Aureus) PictureSoft-tissue swelling of the forehead with central abscess formation, nearing rupture. See a picture of Furuncle: S. Aureus and learn more about the health topic.
Skin Problems: Contagious Rashes, Bumps, and BlistersWhy do rashes, bumps, and blisters appear on your skin? There are several medical causes. Find out what causes bumps, rashes, and other skin conditions in adults and children. Whether on the arm, leg, trunk, or head, itchy or painful rashes and bumps can often be treated using home remedies or medicine.
Skin Problems: A Visual Guide to CystsThese small sacs filled with fluid, tissue, hair, or dead skin can form almost anywhere on your body. Find out more about why cysts form and what you can do about them.
Skin Rashes You Need to Know: 23 Skin DisordersAny abnormal change in the skin color or texture is called a rash. Rashes are generally areas of irritated or swollen skin. Many rashes are red, itchy, and painful. Some people get rashes due to allergy, some due to infection, whereas some get due to their specific genetic makeup.
What Is the Difference Between a Furuncle and an Abscess?What is the difference between a furuncle and an abscess?
How Do You Get Rid of Boils?
Boils result from a localized skin infection. They start as a hard, tender lump that reddens. Eventually, the lump becomes filled with whitish or yellow pus, which comprises millions of dead white blood cells the body has deployed to fight the infection, bacteria, and proteins.
What Causes Boils on Private Areas?Boils or furuncles on the private parts usually develop when the hair follicles get blocked and infected. Men get boils around the groin, thighs, buttocks, and testicles or penis. Women get it on their vagina, labia, and buttocks and around the groin or thighs.
What Causes Boils on Your Butt?What is a boil, and how do you know if you have one? Boils can be painful and cause other health problems if left untreated. Learn the symptoms of boils, what causes them, how they are diagnosed, and treatments for boils.
Why Do People Get Boils?A boil is a hard and painful lump caused by an infection of the hair follicles and surrounding skin. Boils are common skin conditions. They may be caused by many types of bacteria or fungi present on the surface of the skin. The bacteria Staph aureus or Staphylococcus aureus is the commonest cause of boils.