Boils and cellulitis are distinct skin conditions, but both can occur due to bacterial infections. Doctors may prescribe antibiotics to treat cellulitis, and home remedies, such as a warm compress, to encourage boils to drain.

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin and the tissue beneath it. It typically occurs when bacteria enter through a break in the skin, such as a cut, scrape, insect bite, or surgical incision.

Both cellulitis and boils can cause the affected skin area to become red, swollen, warm, and painful. A boil may lead to cellulitis, but cellulitis does not typically cause boils.

Cellulitis can spread rapidly and may be accompanied by fever and chills. It is a serious condition that requires prompt treatment with antibiotics to prevent the infection from spreading to the bloodstream or other parts of the body.

This article explains the difference between cellulitis and boils, including how to recognize them, treatments, and when to see a doctor.

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Cellulitis and boils are distinct conditions, but they are related in the sense that bacterial infections cause both. However, cellulitis does not cause a boil.

Boils are localized infections of a hair follicle that produce a painful, pus-filled bump under the skin. The bacteria Staphylococcus aureus typically causes them. Clusters of boils are known as carbuncles.

Cellulitis is a more diffuse, deeper infection of the skin and subcutaneous tissue. Streptococcus or Staphylococcus bacteria entering through a break in the skin often causes it.

The condition does not form boils, but the presence of a boil or other skin infection can lead to cellulitis if the infection spreads to the surrounding skin and tissues.

Recognizing the symptoms of these conditions can help a person identify whether they have a boil or cellulitis.

typically spreads across a large area of skintypically confined to a small area
most common on the legs and feetmost common on the face and neck
can cause fever, chills, and fatiguemay cause fever if a carbuncle develops
causes widespread redness and swellingcauses a red, pus-filled lump
skin may be tender and warm to the touchaffected area is increasingly tender as infection progresses

Boils may have a yellow or white tip as pus accumulates. They can vary in size from a pea to a golf ball and will eventually burst and drain.

Cellulitis symptoms may spread quickly. In some cases, blisters or small red spots appear on the skin. The skin may also feel tight or stretched.

The first-line treatment for cellulitis is oral antibiotics for 5 days. However, treatment duration may depend on the severity of the infection.

Close monitoring is important to ensure the infection responds to treatment. A person should immediately report any worsening of symptoms or spread of redness to a healthcare professional.

Doctors will also typically advise a person to keep the area clean and dry, and may suggest elevating the affected limb to reduce swelling.

Boil treatment aims to encourage draining. In some cases, home care, such as a warm compress and keeping the area clean, will be enough. However, doctors need to surgically drain some boils.

Doctors may prescribe antibiotics if a person has a severe infection or symptoms such as a fever.

How long does a cellulitis abscess last?

Cellulitis does not typically cause an abscess. However, if cellulitis occurs alongside an abscess, doctors may prescribe antibiotics, typically for a course of five days.

Severe abscesses may require surgical drainage. Healing time can depend on factors such as:

  • the size and severity of the abscess
  • the type of bacteria causing the infection
  • a person’s overall health and immune system function

It is important to follow the prescribed treatment plan and keep follow-up appointments. If the abscess is not improving or symptoms worsen, prompt medical attention is necessary.

Sometimes, people with cellulitis require hospitalization, especially if the infection is severe or they have underlying health conditions.

The outlook for both boils and cellulitis largely depends on the severity of the infection, the promptness of treatment, and the person’s overall health.


Boils, in general, have a good outlook with proper treatment. Most boils:

  • respond to home care with warm compresses and proper hygiene
  • drain and heal within a few weeks
  • rarely lead to complications if they are small and a person properly cares for them

However, complications can arise, especially if the boils are large or if the person has a weakened immune system.


The outlook for cellulitis can be more variable and potentially serious.

Most cases of cellulitis respond well to oral antibiotics. Symptoms usually begin to improve within a few days of starting antibiotics. Treatment duration is typically 5 days but may be longer for severe infections.

However, without treatment, cellulitis can become dangerous. The infection may spread to the lymph nodes and bloodstream, leading to a potentially life threatening condition known as sepsis.

Recurrent episodes of cellulitis can occur, especially in people with chronic conditions or compromised immune systems. Infections on the face or near the eyes can be more serious due to the risk of spreading to the brain.

Cellulitis requires antibiotic treatment. People should speak with a doctor if they have symptoms, including skin redness, swelling, and fever.

Boils may drain by themselves with proper home care. However, if boils are large or there are severe symptoms, people should contact a doctor to discuss treatment options.

A person should seek immediate medical attention if they experience potential signs of severe infection or sepsis, including:

Boils and cellulitis are distinct skin conditions that can both occur due to a bacterial infection. In some cases, a person with a boil may develop cellulitis.

Both conditions can cause tenderness, redness, and swelling. However, cellulitis affects deeper layers of the skin, while boils typically affect hair follicles.

Boils and cellulitis can worsen or lead to more serious complications without proper treatment. If a person suspects either a boil or cellulitis, they should see a doctor, especially if symptoms worsen quickly or include a fever.