How are boils diagnosed and managed?

Boils are common in childhood. They occur when bacteria (Staphylococcus) infect a hair follicle. Boils present as very painful, red lumps under the skin. After a few days pus collects and a yellow head forms which eventually bursts onto the surface of the skin. Once the boil has burst it usually heals with some scarring.

Healing of a boil can be speeded up if an oral antibiotic, such as flucloxacillin or erythromycin, is given. Oral antibiotics should also be given if the local lymph nodes are enlarged or the child is pyrexial. If the boil bursts, clean away the pus with an antiseptic solution (e.g. Savlon) and then apply 2% vioform ointment.

Children who have repeated boils should wash their body and hair twice weekly with povidone iodine (Betadine). Put 0.5% chlorhexidine cream or mupirocin (Bactroban) ointment into the nostrils twice daily for a week and keep the nails short to decrease the number of bacteria on the skin.

Boils sufferers often carry Staphylococcus in their nose, on their skin and under their nails. If boils occur repeatedly, screen the child for diabetes. They may also be nasal carriers of Staphylococcus.

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