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Treatment - Boils and carbuncles

Most boils get better without needing medical treatment.


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

  • cover the boil when it bursts with sterile gauze or a dressing to stop the spread of infection

  • wash your hands after touching a burst boil

  • use paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve any pain


  • do not squeeze or pierce a boil as this can spread the infection

How a GP can help with a boil or carbuncle

Speak to a GP if your boil does not heal within 2 weeks, or you have a carbuncle. A carbuncle is a cluster of boils.

Draining boils

Your GP may decide to drain the boil, or refer you to hospital to have this done. They'll usually numb the area and use a sterile needle or scalpel to pierce the boil.


Antibiotics are usually recommended if you have a carbuncle and you:

  • have a high temperature
  • develop a secondary infection, such as cellulitis
  • have a boil on your face – it can cause complications such as scarring
  • are in severe pain and discomfort

Finish the course of antibiotics even if the boil goes away. If you don't, 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 depends on the area affected.

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: 22 May 2023
Next review due: 22 May 2026

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