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Boils - Getting them to simmer down

Getting them to simmer down

There it sits. Smack in the middle of your child's neck, in the curve between fragile neck and sturdy shoulder. A few days ago, the skin was soft and baby-smooth. Then you noticed a little redness, a little swelling. And today, you're looking at a big, fat, ugly, red boil.

Yuck.

Boils are a nasty skin infection in which bacteria--the highly infectious staphylococcus--invade an oil gland or hair follicle and cause it to swell with pus. The result is a red, swollen, painful bump on the surface of the skin that can appear without warning on any part of your child. Boils have no respect for anything private. And if they're not in a place where you can sight them soon and take steps to heal them, boils can assume awesome proportions.

When to See the Doctor

If your child gets a boil on his face--especially around the nose or mouth--the bacteria it contains may spread into the blood, sinuses or possibly trigger meningitis. That's why any facial boil should be examined by a doctor.

You should also check with your doctor if the boil has a deep red color around it or red streaks running from it toward other parts of the body. These could all be signs of infection.

If your child is having trouble moving the part of his body on which the boil is located, or if he complains that the boil ''really hurts,'' you might also want to check with a physician.

Fortunately, a boil is usually so painful that a worried, uncomfortable child will bring it to parental attention fairly soon after its debut. Hopefully, he tells you about a telltale boil before he's had much chance to spread the infection by poking or prodding it.

''Children are more prone to boils than adults because their active lifestyle often puts their skin in contact with the environment in a way that gets them scratched'' . Even if it's just a haphazard fall on a pebble-strewn playground, the staph bug can sneak into the wound and under the skin.

Fortunately, unless the boil appears on your child's face, you can often treat it on your own. . ''Hippocrates reported on how to treat a boil 5,000 years ago, and there hasn't been much new since then.''

Updated by modern doctors, here are some old Hippocratic methods plus a few new ones besides.

Heat it up. ''Apply hot, wet compresses with a moist towel to your child's boil for three minutes at a time, ten times a day,''. The idea is to bring the boil to a head so the pus can begin to drain. Continue with the compresses for three days after drainage begins.

The water in which you soak the towel should be somewhat warmer than body temperature, but not much.

Do not poke, squeeze or pinch. ''Generally, the main thing is not to poke, squeeze or pinch a boil,''. That can spread infection and cause scarring.

Needle it a bit. '' When you can actually see pus through a thin layer of skin over the top of the boil, that's the time you can very carefully put a flame-sterilized needle to it,'' . Just be sure there's no sign of redness or swelling anywhere around the boil before you prick gently.

Wash bacteria away. After the boil drains, ''wash the boil and the area around it with soap,'' . This will help prevent any further infection.

Avoid oil. As the skin heals, ''Avoid oily products, which may plug up the skin,'' And if your child is prone to boils, consider having him use an antibacterial soap on a regular basis.

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