Folliculitis, Boils, and Carbuncles

What are folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles?

  • Folliculitis. The inflammation of hair follicles due to an infection, injury, or irritation. Folliculitis is characterized by tender, swollen areas that form around the hair follicles, often on the neck, breasts, buttocks, and/or face.
  • Boils. Firm, pus-filled lesions that are painful. Boils are usually located in the waist area, groin, buttocks, and under the arm.
  • Carbuncles. Clusters of boils. These are usually found in the back of the neck or thigh.

What are the symptoms of folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles?

The following are the most common symptoms of folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles. However, each child may experience symptoms differently.

Symptoms for folliculitis may include:

  • Pus in the hair follicle
  • Irritated and red follicles
  • Damaged hair

Symptoms for boils may include:

  • Pus in the center of the boil
  • Whitish, bloody discharge from the boil

Symptoms for carbuncles may include:

  • Pus in the center of the boils
  • Whitish, bloody discharge from the boils
  • Fever
  • Fatigue

The symptoms of folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles may resemble other skin conditions. Always consult a physician for a diagnosis.

How are folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles diagnosed?

Diagnosis of folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles are made by a physician after a thorough medical history and physical examination. After examining the lesions, the physician may culture the wounds, which involves obtaining a sample of the drainage of the wound, allowing it to grow in the laboratory, and identifying the specific bacteria in order to help verify the diagnosis and select the best treatment.

What is the treatment for folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles?

The specific treatment for folliculitis, boils, and carbuncles will be determined by the child's physician based on the following criteria:

  • The child's age, overall health, and medical history
  • Extent of the condition
  • The child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the condition
  • Child or parent’s opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Topical antibiotics (for folliculitis)
  • A warm compress to help promote drainage of the lesion (for carbuncles and boils)
  • Oral or intravenous (IV) antibiotics (to treat the infection)
  • Possible removal of the boils and carbuncles

Carbuncles heal more slowly than a single boil. Keeping the skin clean helps to prevent these conditions from occurring.

Children's Team

Children's Team


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The Division of Dermatology at Children's National Health System continues to expand services as more families seek our expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the skin, hair, and nails.

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