Treatment - Boils and carbuncles

Most boils get better without needing medical treatment.

Apply a warm, moist face cloth to the boil for 10 to 20 minutes, 3 or 4 times a day.

The heat increases the amount of blood circulating around the boil. This sends more infection-fighting white blood cells to the area.

When the boil bursts, cover it with sterile gauze or a dressing to prevent the spread of infection. Then wash your hands thoroughly using hot water and soap.


Never squeeze or pierce a boil because it could spread the infection.

You can use over-the-counter painkillers to help relieve any pain caused by the boil. For example, paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Draining boils

If your boil does not heal, your GP may decide to drain it, or refer you to hospital to have this done. They'll usually numb the area first and then use a sterile needle or scalpel to pierce the boil.


Antibiotics are usually recommended for all cases of carbuncles if you

  • have a high temperature
  • develop a secondary infection, such as cellulitis
  • have a boil on your face – facial boils have a higher risk of causing complications
  • are in severe pain and discomfort

Finish the course of antibiotics even if the boil goes away. If you do not, the infection could return.

Treating recurring boils and carbuncles

If you keep getting boils or carbuncles, you're likely to need further treatment.

Most people who keep getting boils are carriers of staphylococcus aureus (staph bacteria). This means they have staph bacteria living on their skin or inside their nose.

Treatment will depend on where the bacteria are on your body.

An antiseptic soap can kill the bacteria on the skin.

You can use a prescribed antiseptic cream to treat bacteria in the nose. 

Complications of boils and carbuncles

Most boils and carbuncles do not cause further problems. But some people develop a secondary infection.

This can be a minor but painful infection of the deeper layer of skin, such as cellulitis. It can also be a more serious condition, such as sepsis.

Larger boils and carbuncles can also lead to scarring.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 20 April 2020
Next review due: 20 April 2023

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.