You may recall that pharaoh didn't think much of the idea of giving Moses and company their freedom. Even when a bundle of plagues were cast upon Egypt, pharaoh didn't let those folks go. (If you don't remember, you can rent The Ten Commandments on video and relive it all with Yul Brynner and Charlton Heston.) But when pharaoh saw boils among the plagues, the next thing you know, he was crying "Enough!"-and Moses was crossing the border.
Boils are the result of bacteria that invade through a microscopic break in the skin and infect a blocked oil gland or hair follicle. An abscess results when white blood cells, sent to kill the invaders, produce pus. Sounds nasty, but even though boils are sometimes painful and ugly, they're rarely dangerous.
Keep it wet and warm.
"A warm compress is the best way to treat a boil, but you have to keep it very wet and very warm," says John F. Romano, M.D., a dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at The New York Hospital--Cornell Medical Center in New York City. "It's not enough to wring out a washcloth and place it on the boil. You should leave the compress on for 10 to 15 minutes, but keep wetting it every few minutes to make sure the boil stays wet and warm." He suggests this 15-minute compress four or five times daily to bring the boil to a head, which leads to its draining and then healing.
Lead staph to slaughter.
If you're prone to boils, you may be able to lessen their frequency by cleaning your skin with an antiseptic soap such as Betadine, says dermatologist Adrian Connolly, M.D., clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark.
Don't monkey with cysts.
When cysts become infected, they often have a nasty way of turning into boils. So leave cysts alone, or have them excised by a doctor.
|When to See the Doctor|
You can treat most small boils (less than 1/2 inch) at home, but boils that are larger than that or that don't respond to simple remedies require a doctor's attention. You should never squeeze a large boil or a boil of any size around certain "danger zones": face, armpits, groin and the breasts of a nursing woman.
Be sure to consult a doctor if you see red lines radiating from the boil or if you get fever, chills or swelling in other parts of your body. You may also need a doctor's care if the boil is extremely tender or is under a thick layer of skin, as with some boils on the back. And if you have diabetes, you should always consult with your doctor any time boils appear: You might need antibiotics that are available only by prescription.
Hit the showers.
When a boil is draining, keep the skin around it clean by taking showers instead of baths. This reduces the chance of spreading the infection to other parts of the body. After treating a boil, wash your hands well before preparing food, because staph bacteria can cause food poisoning.
Head for the kitchen.
Applying pieces of warm, milk-soaked bread directly on the boil is an old folk remedy--and some people find it works quite well, according to Varro E. Tyler, ph.D., professor of pharmacognosy at purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and author of The Honest Herbal.
Try vegetables ... or tea.
Other home remedies for boils include "compresses" of heated slices of tomato--or raw onion, mashed garlic or the outer leaves of cabbage. You can press these cut vegetables directly on the boil and see for yourself how well they work. Another kitchen compress: place a warm tea bag of black tea directly on the boil for 15 minutes several times a day.
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