Boils & abscesses

Boils are tender, red spots, lumps or pustules that form at the base of a hair follicle.

Boils are usually caused by a bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. The resulting infection is commonly known as a staph infection.

Any break in the skin barrier leaves the skin vulnerable to infection and can lead to the development of a boil. If there are multiple white heads, this is called a 'carbuncle'. Large boils can form abscesses and/or cellulitis.


Most boils and abscesses can be treated with incision and drainage alone.

Referral to hospital for surgical drainage more common for children or adults with complicated or large boils

If there is fever, cellulitis or other conditions such as diabetes, oral flucloxacillin or other antibiotic for seven to ten days is often given

Recurrent boils

If a child or family are having repeatedly getting boils, efforts are needed to reduce any source of bacteria causing reinfection.

  • Treat new boils or lesions straight away.
  • Keep covered with plaster to reduce spreading infection to other parts of the body or other family members.
  • Sheets, towels and clothes should be washed in hot water to reduce reinfection.
  • If indicated by nasal swab results, intranasal antibiotics (e.g. fusidic acid) can be considered for recurrent infections.
  • Try bleach baths (see Starship advice sheet) 

Learn more

Boils DermNet NZ, 2014
Bleach baths more detailed information, DermNet NZ