Home » Skin Conditions » Carbuncle


Last reviewed by Dr. Raj MD on January 12th, 2022.

What is a Carbuncle?

This is a type of skin infection that is under your skin in the form of a mass created by a group of boils that are connected to each other although when first forming it starts as one boil.

When a carbuncle is considered active it makes it a contagious skin infection. They are considered active when they are starting to drain and can spread to other parts of your body or other people by sharing personal items that have been in contact with the carbuncle or from skin-to-skin contact.

A carbuncle varies in size from the size of a pea to the size of a golf ball. Because they are a group of boils when they start to drain there will be more than one hole from which it drains.

The boils that form a carbuncle are infections of a hair follicle that form lumps filled with pus that will grow until it ruptures allowing the pus to drain out. It is also very painful. If a person has more that one carbuncle it is considered carbunculosis.

Most carbuncles will be found on a hairy part of your body like the nape of your neck or back but at times carbuncles will form on your armpits, buttocks, groin, and thighs.

Most carbuncles are deep rooted and when healed they can cause significant scarring but if they are superficial, which means close to the skin, they are less likely to cause deep scarring.

Carbuncle Symptoms

  • When first noticed they are about the size of a pea causing many to think it is just a pimple
  • They are dome shaped
  • Are usually painful and red
  • Over several days they will start to increase in size
  • They start to develop a yellow-white tip that will ooze, weep, or crust until they the carbuncle eventually ruptures
  • If you do not have them treated and they rupture, there will be a creamy white or pink fluid discharge
  • Have a fever
  • Feeling fatigued
  • Have a general sick feeling
  • In the tissue near the carbuncle there may be swelling
  • You may also have swelling in your lymph nodes especially in your neck, armpits, or groin.
  • You may notice itching around the area before the carbuncle develops

Carbuncle Causes

A carbuncle is caused by a bacterial infection that is often caused by the staphylococcus aureus and is most commonly known as a staph infection. A person can get this type of staph infection through a scratch or cut which in turn infects your hair follicle and causes the skin infection to start developing.

When your body starts to fight this infection inflammation happens resulting in the formation of pus. Pus is nothing more that the combination of dead skin cells, white blood cells and bacteria.

There are some people who are more susceptible to staph infections who have certain medical conditions such as diabetes or dermatitis.

There are also other possible causes for a carbuncle to form which can include:

  • Having a rash like folliculitis
  • Friction from clothing or shaving
  • Having your hair pulled out from different sites on your body where it has been caught by your clothing or furniture.
  • Poor hygiene
  • Poor nutrition
  • Having a weak immune system
  • Insect bites, especially in areas that perspire heavily.

There are even some cases where a carbuncle is caused by the Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (MRSA).


When you see your physician they can tell if it is a carbuncle or not by looking at your skin. They may even take a sample of the pus to send to the lab to make sure what bacteria is causing it so the physician can prescribe the appropriate treatment. The physician will also looks at your symptoms.

Carbuncle Pictures

Collection of Pictures of the medical condition Carbuncle…

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Carbuncle Treatment

Most carbuncles will start to drain by itself with fourteen days. To help it drain you can apply a warm cloth to the mass but make sure that you use a different cloth each time and when washing the cloths do it in hot water and separate from other items to avoid spreading the infection to yourself and others.

At home you want to make sure that you are keeping the area clean by washing it gently with antibacterial soap. You should also keep it covered, especially if it starts to drain to keep the infection from spreading. You can also take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication to help reduce the swelling and ease the pain.

You can also cover it with a clean dry cloth and place a heating pad set on low over the carbuncle to help it start to drain on its own several times a day. One important thing to remember is that it is contagious so make sure that you wash your hands before and after touching the carbuncle.

If it does not clear up within fourteen days or is very painful you should see your physician. You should also see your physician if it goes away and comes back often or is on your spine or your face. When you see your physician they will drain the carbuncle by making a small incision so the pus can drain out. After draining the carbuncle the physician will wash the area and cover it with gauze.

Your physician may also give you a prescription for antibiotics. You should not try to squeeze the carbuncle to get the pus out nor make an incision as this could cause the infection to spread to other parts of your body resulting in more carbuncles.

It can also leave a scar that could be much worse than if it drained on its own.

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