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Furuncle

Alternate Names

  • infected cyst

Definition

A furuncle is a skin infection involving the entire hair follicle and the underlying skin tissue.

What is going on in the body?

Staphylococcal bacteria are normally found on the skin surface. Damage to the hair follicle allows the bacteria to enter deeper into the tissues of the hair follicle and the underlying tissue. Hair follicles can become inflamed on any area of the body. Blocked sweat glands or ingrown hairs may contribute to the formation of a furuncle. They are most likely to develop on areas that are subjected to constant friction, sweating, or rubbing by clothing or athletic gear.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

Furuncles are caused by an acute, localized infection which produces an abscess of the skin and underlying tissue.
While anyone may develop a furuncle, they are more common in people who:
  • are overweight or obese
  • have diabetes
  • have poor hygiene
  • use intravenous (IV) drugs

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the condition?

Prevention of furuncles includes good hygiene, use of antibacterial soap and wearing loose clothing that allows air to circulate.

Diagnosed

How is the condition diagnosed?

Diagnosis is made on the appearance of the skin. Skin cultures may show staphylococci or other bacteria.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

Chronically infected and inflamed hair follicles can be quite painful and annoying. This condition can lead to permanent scarring.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Bacteria that cause furuncles may be spread to other members of the household by direct contact.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the condition?

Furuncles may burst, drain, and then heal on their own without treatment. This usually happens within a week.
Warm, moist compresses applied to the furuncle help to promote drainage. This is done by soaking the area with a warm, moist cloth several times a day.
Sometimes the furuncle may need to be surgically drained. The most common procedure for this is called incision and drainage.Antibiotics may be used to control the infection.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Antibiotics may cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and in some cases an allergic reaction. Any surgery can be complicated by bleeding, infection, or a reaction to the anesthesia.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

Furuncles will go away with treatment, but some people have recurrences.

Monitor

How is the condition monitored?

A person with a furuncle should call a healthcare professional if a fever develops, if the furuncle fails to heal within a week, or if any other new or worsening symptoms occur.

Sources

Hill, Marcia J. Skin Disorders: Mosby's Clinical Nursing Series, 1994

The Merck Manual of Medical Information, 1997

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