Boils are otherwise known as furuncles, and are usually caused by a bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus).
In this article, we look at the common causes of boils on the buttocks, and how to identify a boil. We also discuss treatment, home remedies, and when to see a doctor.
Causes and risk factors
Boils may be caused by close contact with another person who has them.
Boils are often caused by the bacteria S. aureus. This is commonly called a staph infection.
All humans have this bacteria living on their skin, where it is usually harmless. When a person develops boils on their buttocks or elsewhere, it is often due to bacteria under the skin.
Rapidly growing, severe, or recurrent boils may be caused by the bacteria MRSA, or methicillin resistant S. aureus. This is a specific type of S. aureus that is able to survive certain types of medication.
MRSA is immune to most types of antibiotics, so it remains on the skin and can be difficult to treat.
MRSA skin infections can lead to more serious complications, including life-threatening deep tissue infections and complicated pneumonia.
Other types of bacteria can also cause a boil if they get into a hair follicle or oil gland.
Several factors can make a person more susceptible to boils, including:
- Close contact with another person who has boils. MRSA and other resistant bacteria can be passed from person to person. This can become a problem in hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care facilities where many people are ill.
- Previously having boils. It is very common for boils to reappear. Recurrent boils are generally defined as 3 or more occurrences within 12 months. Recurrent boils are most commonly caused by MRSA.
- Eczema, psoriasis, or a significant skin irritation that allows bacteria to access deeper skin tissues.
Other medical conditions or lifestyle factors that make people more likely to get boils include:
- iron deficiency anemia
- previous antibiotic therapy
- poor personal hygiene
- HIV and other autoimmune conditions
Depending on the size, exact location on the buttocks, and other health concerns, warm compresses and close observation may be the first line of treatment.
In cases where the boil is getting larger, a procedure called incision and drainage is typically recommended. In many cases, this will allow the boil to heal without the need for antibiotics.
However, if infection is severe, rapidly growing, or spreading into the surrounding tissue, antibiotics may also be necessary.
It can be very difficult to remove MRSA from the body. Because of this, other members of the household may also undergo treatment to decrease the presence of the bacteria.
This is especially important if multiple family members are experiencing ongoing skin infections.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following home remedy for any type of boil:
- Make a warm compress by soaking a clean cloth in hot water.
- Apply the compress to the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes, around 3 or 4 times a day, until it releases pus.
- Consider taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen if the boils are painful.
- Keep the area clean. Avoid touching or rubbing it.
- If the boil bursts, keep it covered with a bandage or gauze to prevent spread of bacteria.
Boils caused by MRSA may need more extensive or additional treatment.
People should also avoid picking, poking, squeezing, or trying to lance the boil at home, as this can cause it to become more inflamed and worsen the infection.
Managing MRSA infections at home
Some strategies for managing MRSA infections at home include:
- Bathing and washing regularly.
- Practicing good hand-washing techniques with soap and hot water.
- Using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Using commercial-grade disinfectants for surfaces at home.
- Washing clothing and bedding regularly.
- Not sharing personal items such as razors, towels, cosmetics, washcloths, or deodorant.
- Using pump and squeeze bottles of lotion or moisturizers, rather than pots or jars.
Boils may also appear on the face, neck, and shoulders.
Image credit: MGA73bot2, 2012
Boils commonly appear on the buttocks, but can also occur on the face, neck, armpits, shoulders, or eyelids. When several boils occur together in a group, it is known as a carbuncle.
A boil on the buttocks is a raised lump that may be:
- filled with pus
Boils will usually begin by resembling a small, firm bump around the size of a pea.
They may then grow in size and become softer, often with a yellow or white tip that leaks pus or clear liquid. A boil can grow to the size of a golf ball or even larger.
Diagnosing a boil on the buttocks is usually simple, as a healthcare professional may be able to identify it with only a visual examination. If it is draining, a sample can be collected to test for the presence of bacteria, particularly MRSA.
A doctor may also take urine and blood samples to test for underlying diabetes, systemic infection, or another health condition.
Nasal swabs may also be taken from the individual or close family members to see if they are carriers for the MRSA bacteria.
Regular bathing and hand-washing may help to prevent the spread of boils.
The bacteria from boils is contagious, so steps should be taken to reduce the risk of them recurring or spreading.
Tips for prevention include:
- maintaining good personal hygiene, such as bathing regularly and washing hands with soap and water
- using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, particularly after touching the boil
- avoiding sharing personal items, such as towels, linen, or razors
- keeping surfaces clean, such as counters, door knobs, bath tubs, and toilet seats
Decolonization may be recommended for households with recurrent MRSA infections to help prevent future infections. This goal of this process is to reduce the amount of MRSA bacteria carried on the skin.
Doctors may prescribe a five-day treatment plan with an antibiotic ointment (mupirocin) in the nose and a medicated soap (chlohexadine).
When to see a doctor
If a boil on the buttocks does not improve with warm compresses after a few days, it may be helpful to consult a doctor.
A person should see their doctor sooner if the boil becomes more swollen or painful, if the redness spreads, or if a fever develops.
In some cases, boils can lead to a deeper infection known as an abscess. This will also need to be drained and may require other treatments done by a specialist.
For individuals with immune system problems, these infections can be particularly serious.
In most cases, small boils on the buttocks will heal on their own within 1 to 2 weeks. Home remedies may help speed up the recovery process.
Boils that are getting larger, not healing on their own, causing other symptoms, or are recurrent may require drainage or more extensive treatment.
Recurrence is one of the most common complications associated with boils on the buttocks.
They rarely lead to systemic infections or a fever unless they are related to another underlying condition. Boils caused by MRSA are more likely to cause serious complications.
Boils that are not caused by MRSA rarely have any long-term effects, but may cause scarring.