A carbuncle is a cluster of furuncles, or boils, that develops under the skin. A carbuncle can be painful and tender to the touch. Home remedies and medical treatments may help.

Furuncles and carbuncles typically happen as a result of staphylococcal infection. They develop when the infection affects the hair follicle and surrounding tissue. This can cause some swelling and other symptoms.

Read on to learn more about the symptoms and causes of carbuncles. This article also looks at treatment options, possible complications, when to contact a doctor, and more.

View the slideshow below for photos of carbuncles.

A carbuncle is a dome-shaped cluster of boils. It most commonly develops on the:

  • thighs
  • back
  • back of the neck

Carbuncles typically develop over a few days, and will usually measure around 3–10 centimeters (cm). It can cause pain and tenderness.

Other symptoms a person may experience include:

  • fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or above
  • generally feeling unwell
  • weakness
  • exhaustion

Staphylococcal infection usually causes carbuncles. They develop when the infection causes boils to develop in the hair follicles and surrounding tissues.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), also known as staph bacteria, lives on the skin and inside the nose and throat. Usually, the body’s immune system keeps them under control, but sometimes they enter the skin through a hair follicle, or through a cut or graze in the skin.

When the skin becomes infected, the immune system responds by sending white blood cells to the affected area to destroy the bacteria. Pus is an accumulation of dead bacteria, dead white blood cells, and dead skin.

This can result in a boil, which can cluster together to form a carbuncle.

Learn more about bacterial skin infections.

Anybody can get carbuncles. However, factors that increase the likelihood of boils include:

Carbuncles are less common than boils. They are more likely to affect people assigned male at birth who are middle-aged.

To assist with reaching an accurate diagnosis, a doctor will usually begin by performing a physical examination and asking questions about symptoms.

If they suspect a carbuncle, they will then usually use a swab to table a sample from the carbuncle. This will allow them to obtain a bacterial culture to confirm the presence of S. aureus.

A sensitivity test on the sample can help determine the best type of treatment for the infection.

The doctor may use a sterilized needle to lance the abscess, which means pricking it and draining the pus away.

A person must not drain the boils at home. It is important that this happens in a sterile environment by a medical professional with the right equipment.

The doctor will also usually recommend antibiotics. A should follow the guidelines their doctor gives them for taking the antibiotics to help ensure that the infection does not return.

If a person suspects they have a carbuncle, it is important to contact a doctor for advice, as it may be necessary to drain the carbuncle in a sterile environment and treat the infection with antibiotics.

However, the doctor may also recommend some home remedies to help ease symptoms. These can include:

  • applying a cloth soaked in warm water for 10 minutes at a time, four times per day
  • using antibacterial soap to clean the area around the boils, particularly if pus comes out
  • keeping the area covered with a clean dressing, where possible
  • frequently washing hands and avoiding touching the carbuncle
  • washing bedding at least once per week

A person can take over-the-counter pain relief medication, such as ibuprofen, to help manage the pain.

It is important not to try to burst or squeeze carbuncles. This can cause the infection to spread and increase the risk of complications.

Learn more about home remedies for boils.

It is important to contact a doctor as early as a person suspects they have a carbuncle, as medical treatment may be necessary.

A boil usually goes away after around 2 weeks without treatment. If it does not go away in this time, or if fever accompanies the abscess, this could indicate a carbuncle.

Patients with a chronic condition such as diabetes or cancer, or those who are taking immunosuppressive medications, should consult their doctor if they have boils or a carbuncle.

If a person frequently gets boils, they may also wish to contact their doctor for advice on ways to help prevent them. This can also help reduce the likelihood of them developing into a carbuncle.

Possible complications of carbuncles include:

  • scarring
  • cellulitis, an infection in the deeper layers of the skin
  • septicemia, or blood poisoning, which can lead to sepsis
  • cavernous sinus thrombophlebitis in rare cases, which can happen when a blood clot forms as a result of the infection

Contacting a doctor if a person suspects they have a carbuncle and following a suitable treatment plan can help reduce the risk of complications.

Learn more about boils and cellulitis.

Ways of preventing boils and carbuncles include:

  • keeping the skin clean by washing it regularly
  • immediately cleansing all skin wounds, cuts, and grazes
  • putting a sterile bandage over any cuts to help prevent infection

Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and getting regular physical exercise will improve your general health and your immune system, reducing the risk of developing boils and carbuncles.

A carbuncle is a collection of furuncles, or boils. It can develop when an infection affects the hair follicles and surrounding tissues.

Symptoms of a carbuncle can include pain, tenderness, and swelling. It can also cause fever, weakness, and exhaustion.

Doctors may recommend draining the carbuncle. They may also prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. Some home remedies, such as applying a warm compress and covering the carbuncle with a clean dressing, may also help.

It is important to contact a doctor as soon as a person suspects they have a carbuncle. The doctor can advise on a suitable treatment plan to help the carbuncle heal, prevent recurrence, and reduce the chance of complications.