Boil (Furuncle) in the Ear Canal. Symptoms and treatment
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What are furuncles and carbuncles?
Last updated Tue 9 Jan 2018
- Furuncle or carbuncle?
- Home remedies
A carbuncle is collection of boils that develop under the skin. When bacteria infect hair follicles, the follicles can swell and turn into boils and carbuncles.
A furuncle starts as a red lump. It may be tender. The lump rapidly fills with pus , and as it grows it may burst.
Furuncles, boils, and carbuncles typically affect the thighs, armpits, buttocks, face, and neck.
Individuals with weakened immune systems, adolescents, and young adults are more susceptible to furuncles than younger children or older adults.
Furuncle or carbuncle?
Furuncles and carbuncles are similar but with some differences.
Furuncles, or boils, are skin abscesses that result from staphylococcal infection. They affect a hair follicle and surrounding tissue.
Carbuncles are groups of furuncles that join together under the skin. They affect the deeper layers, and they can lead to scarring.
Furuncles and carbuncles both result in swelling under the skin, and there may be other symptoms, too.
Furuncles develop rapidly as pink or red bumps. They are often painful. The surrounding skin is typically red, inflamed and tender.
The lesions often appear on the neck, breast, face, buttocks, or thighs. They occur in places prone to hair, sweat, and friction, and they tend to start in a hair follicle.
The bump fills with pus within a few days, and it grows. The bigger it gets, the more painful it becomes.
Furuncles may go away without any intervention. Sometimes they burst and heal without a scar within 2 days to 3 weeks.
They are common among teenagers and young adults, and they affect males more than females. Overcrowded and unhygienic living conditions increase the risk .
A carbuncle is less common than a furuncle, or boil. It is a collection of boils on one site. It is larger than a single boil, measuring up to 4 inches across. A carbuncle usually has one or more openings that drain pus onto the skin.
The most common cause of a carbuncle is a bacterium known as Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus). The infection may lead to generalized body symptoms, including a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, and a general feeling of being unwell, weak, and exhausted.
The infection can spread to other parts of the body, and it can spread to other people too, so that other household members may develop one at the same time.
Carbuncles are most likely on the back, the thighs, or the back of the neck.
They affect males more frequently than females, and especially older men with poor health or a weakened immune system.
Carbuncle infections tend to be deeper and more severe than those caused by furuncle. The risk of scarring is higher, and they take longer to develop and to resolve than furuncles.
S. aureus, also known as staph bacteria, live 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.
The following conditions increase the risk of developing furuncles:
- Diabetes: High levels of blood sugar, or glucose, can reduce the immune system’s ability to respond to infection.
- Medications: Some medications weaken the immune system.
- HIV and some other diseases: Certain conditions weaken the immune systems
- Skin conditions: Psoriasis, eczema , and acne increase susceptibility.
Obesity also increases the risk .
Often, the normal bacteria in a person’s nose or on their skin can lead to an abscess. Sometimes, however, the infection can spread when people share space, materials, or devices, such as clothing and whirlpool footbaths.
A number of solutions can help relieve the symptoms of skin abscesses.
Applying a warm face cloth for 10 minutes a few times a day may help speed up the healing process. Heat draws more blood, and so more whites cells, to the affected area and encourages pore dilation and release of pus.
It is important to wash the hands thoroughly after touching the site and to avoid squeezing a furuncle or carbuncle, as this increases the risk of spreading infection.
Experts say patients should not try to burst or squeeze furuncles or carbuncles. If the lesion is very painful, if it lasts for more than 2 weeks, or if there is a fever, you should see your doctor.
The doctor may use a sterilized needle to lance the abscess, which means pricking it and draining the pus away.
An abscess can be surgically removed.
This must not be done at home, but by a health care professional with the proper training and equipment.
Antibiotics should only be used if recommended by a medical professional.
Hot packs and lancing may be sufficient to resolve them, but if the infection spreads to a deeper layer under the skin, antibiotics may be recommended by a medical professional.
There is a risk of secondary infection, which is when the infection spreads to other parts of the body. Cellulitis is one type of potentially serious secondary infection that can occur.
When to see a doctor
A furuncle usually goes away after around 2 weeks without treatment, but if a fever accompanies the abscess, the person should seek medical help.
Patients with a chronic disease, such as diabetes or cancer , or those who are taking immunosuppressive medications, should consult their doctor if they have a carbuncle.
Ways of preventing boils and carbuncles include:
- keeping the skin clean by washing it regularly
- immediately cleansing all skin wounds, cuts, and grazes, however small
- 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 furuncles and carbuncles.
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What is pus?
Pus is a protein-rich fluid called liquor puris that is filled with dead, white blood cells that the body has sent to fight infection. Pus is a natural result of the body fighting infection and can be yellow, green, or brown. Sometimes, it has a foul odor. Pus that appears after surgery may be the sign of an infection.
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How to get rid of a blind pimple
Blind pimples can happen when a pore becomes blocked. They form under the skin and are usually not noticeable from a distance, but a lump can be felt by running a finger over the skin’s surface. Learn about some treatments and home remedies that can help you get rid of a blind pimple and some tips for preventing them.
Infectious Diseases / Bacteria / Viruses
Article last updated by Yvette Brazier on Tue 9 January 2018.
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All references are available in the References tab.
Boils and carbuncles. (2015, January 30). Retrieved from http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/boils/pages/introduction.aspx
Dhar, A. D. (2013, May). Furuncles and carbuncles. Merck Manuals Professional version. Retrieved from http://www.msdmanuals.com/en-gb/professional/dermatologic-disorders/bacterial-skin-infections/furuncles-and-carbuncles
Baddour, L.M. (n.d.). Skin abscesses, furuncles and carbuncles. Retrieved from http://www.uptodate.com/contents/skin-abscesses-furuncles-and-carbuncles
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A small boil (furuncle) that occurs in the ear canal can be very painful. It usually clears without treatment. However, painkillers and antibiotic medicines are sometimes needed. Tips on how to help prevent further episodes are given below.
What are the symptoms of a boil in the ear canal?
The main symptom is pain. This pain may become quite severe even though the boil is usually small. This is because of the location of the boil.
Other symptoms may include itch, irritation and sometimes a temporary hearing loss whilst the infection is present.
If the boil bursts, you may have a sudden discharge from the ear. If this happens, the pain often eases dramatically and the symptoms soon settle.
What causes a boil in the ear canal?
Mostly they occur ‘out of the blue’ for no apparent reason. They are like most spots or small boils that can occur on any area of the skin. In some cases the infection develops on damaged skin. You can damage the skin in the ear canal if you poke your ear with such objects as a cotton wool bud. Slightly damaged skin can quickly become inflamed and infected.
What is the treatment for a boil in the ear?
Like most small spots or tiny boils, a furuncle is likely to go without any treatment. The body’s immune system can usually clear germs (bacteria) that cause small boils. However, the pain may be bad until it goes.
The following may be used as treatment:
- You may need painkillers .
- A cloth (flannel) soaked in hot water and then held against the ear may relieve the pain.
- Antibiotics, such as flucloxacillin , are sometimes needed if it does not clear on its own or if the infection is severe.
- Sometimes the boil becomes larger and more painful. You may need to be referred to an ear specialist if this happens.
Can I prevent infections in the ear canal?
Some people find that water, soap, shampoo, hair spray, etc, which gets into their ears can cause irritation or itch. The itch may cause you to poke or scratch the ear canal with a finger or a cotton wool bud. This may damage the skin in the ear canal and cause inflammation. Inflamed skin can quickly become infected.
Some people try to clean out their ears with cotton buds. This is not only unnecessary but may damage the skin in the ear canal.
Therefore, you may prevent infections of the ear canal by the following:
- Try not to scratch or poke the ear canal with fingers, cotton buds, towels, etc.
- Do not clean the ear canal with cotton buds. They may scratch or irritate and may push dirt and wax further into the ear. The ear will clean itself, and bits of wax will fall out now and then.
- If you have sensitive ears, keep the ear canal dry and avoid soap or shampoo getting in. You can do this when you shower by placing a piece of cotton wool coated in soft white paraffin (for example, Vaseline®) in the outer ear. Do not use corners of towels or cotton buds to dry any water that does get into the ear canal. This will only push things further in. Let the ear dry naturally. When you swim try to keep your ears dry. You can do this by wearing a tightly fitting cap that covers the ears. Some swimmers use silicone rubber earplugs. However, only use them if they do not irritate the skin in your ear canal.
Barotrauma of the Ear
Fungal Ear Infection
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Further reading and references
Boils, carbuncles, and staphylococcal carriage ; NICE CKS, July 2015 (UK access only)
Otitis externa ; NICE CKS, July 2015 (UK access only)
i was diagnosed with eustachian tube dyfinction just under 3 months ago. Symptoms have got better in time but the main symptom is that whenever i talk loudly my ear will whistle alongside my voice…emma1301
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