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Boils On Scalp: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Boils are red pus-filled swollen bumps that develop in a hair follicle on the scalp. It is a skin infection that turns the skin red in the area of the infection and is often painful [1] . Apart from the scalp, boils can appear on the armpits, face, neck, shoulders, and buttocks. Boils are also called furuncles.

What Causes Boils On Scalp?

Most boils are caused by the most common infectious bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, but other types of bacteria may also cause them. This bacteria enter the body through tiny cuts in the skin and can travel down the hair to the follicle. Staphylococcus aureus is the most common pathogen in the skin and soft tissue infections. Boils or furuncles occur often and may easily spread among family members [1] .

What Are The Symptoms Of Boils On Scalp?

The most common sign of boil is a red, swollen, tender bump which varies in size. If several adjacent hair follicles are infected they may combine together and form a larger bump known as a carbuncle [1] . These are the other symptoms of scalp boils:

  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • The bump is painful and filled with pus

Risk Factors For Boils On Scalp [2]

Physical contact with infected individuals is the primary risk factor for boils. Other risk factors include the following:

  • Family history
  • Previous antibiotic therapy
  • Anaemia
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Multiple lesions
  • Previous hospitalization
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Other skin diseases such as leg ulcers, atopic dermatitis, and chronic wounds

When To See A Doctor

You should consult a doctor when you have high fever, swollen lymph nodes, the skin around the boil turns red and very painful, the boil doesn't drain, a second boil appears, and the boil doesn't heal within 2 weeks.

How To Diagnose Boils On Scalp

The doctor will perform a general physical examination. The infectious bacteria can be identified by taking a simple cultured swab either from the pus-filled lesions, nostrils or the perineum [1] .

The doctor will then conduct other tests like urine test, blood glucose test to identify any underlying diabetes, and blood test.

How To Treat Boils On Scalp

The treatment of scalp boils depends on its severity. If the bump is small, then the boils can be treated at home using ingredients available at home.

A. Home remedies to treat boils on scalp

1. Warm water compress

The heat from the warm water increases the blood circulation in the infected area, bringing more white blood cells and antibodies to the area to fight the bacteria. Applying warm water compress will lower the pain and help bring the pus to the surface [3] .

  • Make a warm compress by soaking a cotton ball in warm water and squeezing out the excess water.
  • Dab the cotton ball on the boil and repeat this for 10 to 20 minutes.
  • Do this thrice a day daily until the boil disappears.

2. Epsom salt

Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) can treat boils because it aids in blood circulation and helps in drawing out the pus, causing it to drain. The application of Epsom salt will soak in all the moisture from the infected area and kill the bacteria because of lack of moisture [4] .

  • Dissolve 2 tablespoons of Epsom salt into a bowl of warm water.
  • Soak a cotton ball in it and apply it on the area for 20 minutes.
  • Do it thrice a day.

3. Neem oil

Neem oil has antiseptic, antimicrobial, and antibacterial properties that can help cure boils. Neem leaf extract is also used for treating boils [5] .

  • Apply pure neem oil directly to the boil three to four times a day.
  • You can also crush a handful of neem leaves in water to make a smooth paste.
  • Apply this paste to the boil and keep it on for 30 minutes.

4. Tea tree oil

Tea tree essential oil contains antiseptic and antibacterial properties that can help kill the bacteria causing boils. It also reduces the scar after the boil heals [6] .

  • Mix 5 drops of tea tree oil with a teaspoon of coconut oil.
  • With the help of a cotton ball, apply the oil on the boil two or three times a day.

5. Castor oil

Castor oil contains a compound called ricinoleic acid which has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. This makes castor oil a great natural remedy for treating boils [7] .

  • Apply little amounts of castor oil directly to the boil three times a day.

6. Turmeric powder

Turmeric powder contains a compound called curcumin which has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that help fight the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria [8] .

  • Mix turmeric powder with water to make a paste and apply it on the boil twice a day.

B. Antibiotics treatment

If the bump is larger and painful and the skin infection is considered to be severe, draining the boil with the help of antibiotics will be prescribed by the doctor. Once the boil has been drained, clean the infected area thrice a day with warm water compress until the infected area has been healed. Apply an antibiotic ointment prescribed by the doctor after it's cleaned.

The doctor will also recommend a medicated shampoo to wash away any oil and dirt from the scalp.

What Are The Complications Of Boils On Scalp

The most common complications are scarring when the boil heals and recurrence if the boil isn't treated properly. Osteomyelitis, central nervous system infections and septic arthritis with meningitis can occur following the bacterial infection [9] .

How To Prevent Boils On Scalp [1]

  • Personal hygiene and proper wound care are recommended for patients with recurrent boils.
  • After cleaning the boil cover it with a clean dry bandage to prevent further bacterial infections.
  • Avoid using shared personal items such as razors, epilators, linens and towels.
  • Wash the clothes, linens, and towels used by an infected family member.
  • Wear loose-fitting headgear to prevent excess sweating.
  • Wash your hair often and also after exercise.
View Article References
  1. [1] Ibler, K. S., & Kromann, C. B. (2014). Recurrent furunculosis - challenges and management: a review.Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology,7, 59-64.
  2. [2] El-Gilany, A. H., & Fathy, H. (2009). Risk factors of recurrent furunculosis.Dermatology online journal,15(1).
  3. [3] Rabkin, J. M., & Hunt, T. K. (1987). Local heat increases blood flow and oxygen tension in wounds.Archives of Surgery,122(2), 221-225.
  4. [4] Li, Y., Liu, G., Zhai, Z., Liu, L., Li, H., Yang, K., … Dai, K. (2014). Antibacterial properties of magnesium in vitro and in an in vivo model of implant-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection.Antimicrobial agents and chemotherapy,58(12), 7586-7591.
  5. [5] Tabassum, N., & Hamdani, M. (2014). Plants used to treat skin diseases.Pharmacognosy reviews,8(15), 52-60.
  6. [6] Carson, C. F., Hammer, K. A., & Riley, T. V. (2006). Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) oil: a review of antimicrobial and other medicinal properties.Clinical microbiology reviews,19(1), 50-62.
  7. [7] Orchard, A., & van Vuuren, S. (2017). Commercial Essential Oils as Potential Antimicrobials to Treat Skin Diseases.Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM,2017, 4517971.
  8. [8] Teow, S. Y., Liew, K., Ali, S. A., Khoo, A. S., & Peh, S. C. (2016). Antibacterial Action of Curcumin againstStaphylococcus aureus: A Brief Review.Journal of tropical medicine,2016, 2853045.
  9. [9] Chang, W. N., Lu, C. H., Wu, J. J., Chang, H. W., Tsai, Y. C., Chen, F. T., & Chien, C. C. (2001). Staphylococcus aureus meningitis in adults: a clinical comparison of infections caused by methicillin-resistant and methicillin-sensitive strains.Infection,29(5), 245-250.
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