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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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September 2003

Q. I am a 33-year-old female and frequently get large boils on my breasts. They are very painful and require me to break the skin to relieve the pressure. A large amount of puss expels and a deep hole is left. This takes about 3 weeks to heal afterwards. I started getting them seven years ago after my first child. Is this common?

A. The skin is a good barrier to infection, but on occasion things can go wrong here. The pores on the skin are the growth center for hair follicles, with oil glands at the base. Bacteria from the skin surface can invade this site and cause superficial infections like a small pimple which usually come and go without treatment.

If these infections become deeper in the skin surface, a boil occurs, also known as a furuncle. Some persons are prone to these deeper infections. A general exam by your doctor can look for conditions which might make you more susceptible, such as diabetes, but often there is no underlying cause found.

Treatment is aimed at reducing the bacterial presence on the skin and preventing the deeper infections such as you describe. This may include antibacterial soap, topical or oral antibiotics. Consultation with a dermatologist may be needed for difficult cases.



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