What Causes Boils in Children?

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Child with Facial Boil
Child with Facial Boil (Image: "Free Dirty Forgotten Sad Child Creative Commons" is Copyrighted by Flickr user: Pink Sherbet Photography (D. Sharon Pruitt) under the Creative Commons Attribution license.)

Seeing a boil on your child can be shocking to a parent. Besides their ugly appearance, boils contain pus that’s discharged with blood as the boil matures. As boils are highly contagious, caution must be used in cleaning one so the discharge doesn't touch unaffected areas of the skin. Because children are more active than adults, they’re more prone to develop boils. Children playing in dirt and mud can easily become infected with boils because of bacteria entering the skin through cuts or wounds.

Identification

Boils, also called lesions, are skin infections beginning in an oil gland or hair follicle that fills up with pus. They’re caused by the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Boils are painful, swollen red bumps on the skin’s surface that can be accompanied by fever and pain. Although boils in children don't present a serious problem if a child is otherwise healthy, there's a risk that a child could become sick if an infection spreads.

Contributing factors

Children with diabetes are more likely to contract boils and other skin conditions and infections. Eczema—an inflammatory skin rash affecting the arms, face, knees and elbows—can cause boils. The cracking, dryness, scratching and itching caused by eczema increase the likelihood of bacteria breaking through the skin, and infants with the condition are especially susceptible to getting boils.

Considerations

Boils may be caused by a weakened immune system. When a child’s immune system is weak, his body is unable to resist the attack of bacteria that cause boils. Children who suffer from repeated attacks despite taking precautions to not become infected with boils need to have their blood tested.

Misconceptions

Although many people don’t view medicines as causing boils, medications are sometimes an underlying catalyst for a boil. Taking certain medications, such as antibiotics and cortisones, can make a person susceptible to boils. Medications such as prednisone can weaken the immune system, increasing the likelihood of boils developing.

Warning

Boils developing on a child’s face, particularly around the mouth or nose, can contain bacteria that spread into the sinuses or bloodstream, and this can trigger meningitis, according to Paul Rehder, an Oxnard, California, pediatric dermatologist. Any facial boils need to be seen by a doctor. Boils that are deep red in color or have red streaks extending toward other body parts could also signal blood poisoning.

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