Left banner image adapted from amyloidosis gross node, by Ed Uthman MD, Creative Commons license


When an abscess forms under the skin, it's called a boil. It doesn't go unnoticed - the pain and inflammation can be excruciating depending on where it's located. Doctors lance boils to release the contents and control infection. They wear gloves because the pus might contain bacteria or other infectious agents, as well as for hygiene considerations when touching a patient.

A boil forms when the pus from an immune response under the skin tries to make its way out of the body. It pushes up under the epidermis. Sometimes it will find an outlet by breaking the skin or making its way out of a pore or hair follicle.

There are a number of different types of boils, from infected hair follicles to large, cyst-like lesions. You can read more about the various types at MedicineNet.

The redness is caused by the inflammatory response to the pathogen or foreign material that is causing pus formation. The blood vessels dilate (warmth and redness) and immune cells infiltrate the tissue (swelling, leading to pain due to pressure on local nerve endings). 

If a boil is starting to come up, applying heat to increase circulation to the area is the best treatment choice. Once it forms a pustule, then lancing is an option.

Some boils appear with more of a blood color, like this abscess photographed by Sven Teschke at Wikimedia

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