A Word with the DOCTOR
by Dr John Winsor
The Sunday Times of Malta
THE HUMAN BODY is covered with thousands of tiny hairs. Each one of these tiny hairs grows through the skin from a follicle.
If one of these follicles becomes infected, then a swollen, painful, hot, localised red lump can develop. That is a boil.
Similarly, if a sweat gland, a sebaceous gland, or even a small cut in the skin, becomes infected, the result may be a boil. A pimple or spot, by the way, is just an underdeveloped boil.
Though they seem to be less common than in the past, boils are still a health hazard to try to avoid.
Boils most commonly occur where the skin is rubbed by the clothing. This is why they seem to develop most frequently in places that are most troublesome. The back of the neck, where the collar rubs, is a common site.
When a boil develops, the first thing to remember is not to squeeze! This can just as easily send the pus downwards and into the tissues, as upwards and out into the open.
The best treatment is the most simple. Just cover the boil with a dry dressing, and leave it alone to come to a head and burst.
Traditionally it is often thought that boils need to be covered with special pastes in order to draw them. Personally, I think that the only useful and necessary treatment is warmth.
Put a wrapped hot water bottle over the dressed boil, and not only will the boil be encouraged to burst, but the pain will be relieved.
Once the boil has burst, all you need to do is change the dressing, being careful to burn each old dressing as quickly as you can, and to wash the skin round the boil with soapy water, or water into which a little antiseptic has been poured.
Boils are very infectious. They are made up of bacteria and dead cells. If someo
ne in your family suffers from recurrent boils, then it is possible that one member of the family is acting as a carrier.
A nose swab from each member of the family is usually a good idea. The organisms responsible for boils often live in the nostrils.
Anyone who gets lots of boils should have his urine tested for sugar, since diabetes is a condition which can make the development of boils more likely.
Get medical advice about a boil if it is very large or very painful, or doesn't look like bursting itself. You should also see a doctor if red lines appear on the skin around a boil, since these may suggest that the infection is spreading.