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DR FLO: Do recurrent boils mean my blood is infected?

In some people, there is no good reason for getting recurrent boils.


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Dr Flo, I was recently treated with antibiotics and painkillers for a boil on my hairline. After that it moved to the ring finger. What causes boils and are they completely curable? Why are they more common in some people than others? Are there foods that make one susceptible to getting boils and are boils infectious? MGM

Dr Flo, I have boil-like pimples that keep appearing on the skin on my buttocks and stomach. They have pus. Is this a blood infection and will antibiotics really clear them? I have tried antibiotics before and they didn’t work. Rose

Dear MGM and Rose,

A boil (abscess) is caused by infection getting into the layers of the skin through tiny cuts or around a hair follicle or sweat glands or sebaceous glands. Because of the infection, pus forms and accumulates, leading to a painful swelling, which may turn red, or partly yellow due to the pus underneath.

Recurrent boils are associated with poor hygiene, dirty environments, contact with people with some kinds of skin infections and poor blood circulation.

It could also be a sign of a weak immune system, for example due to diabetes, long-term use of steroids, cancer, blood disorders, alcoholism, AIDS, and other diseases. In some people, though, there is no good reason for getting recurrent boils.

You can also get pimples that have pus in them as a result of other inflammatory skin conditions like acne, psoriasis and sometimes as part of a fungal infection.

Food cannot cause boils. If you are allergic to certain foods, you’ll get a rash and swellings which may have some fluid in them, but they are not boils. The rash or swellings can get infected due to scratching, when bacteria gets into the layers of the skin.

Treatment involves opening the boil so that the pus can drain out, and sometimes, antibiotics are needed. If the swelling is small, less than one centimetre in diameter, you can press it with a cloth dipped in warm water several times a day for about 20 to 30 minutes. It would also be advisable to visit a skin specialist (dermatologist) when you have the pimples so that you can get an accurate diagnosis and treatment.

There’s no treatment that can be given once to prevent future infections. Each new infection has to be treated when it occurs When you get another one, it is usually a new infection, and not the first one spreading to another area.

Dr Flo, one of my neighbours is suffering from an unknown disease. She suddenly started having communication problems; we can no longer understand what she is saying. She has started drooling and she can’t hold anything in her mouth; not even food.

What is happening and where can we take her for treatment? Elijah

Dear Elijah,
The problems with your neighbour’s speech are because the muscles used for talking are weak or she has difficulty controlling them. This includes the tongue and facial muscles, especially the cheeks and around the mouth. This weakness or inability to control the muscles is the reason she is also drooling and can’t hold anything in her mouth.

This is a serious condition caused by a problem with the nerves, the muscles or a problem in the brain, possibly due to a stroke, head injury, infection, or brain tumour, among other serious illnesses.

She needs to be seen by a physician or a neurologist urgently, in a hospital where she would be able to get laboratory tests and a CT scan or MRI scan done. Once the underlying cause is identified, she can be treated accordingly. A good option would be Kenyatta National Referral Hospital in Nairobi or any other referral hospital near where she is.

Dr Flo, every so often, my ears get blocked. When I go to hospital, I am told I have a lot of wax blocking my ears. I am given ear drops and my ears are cleaned. But the problem keeps recurring. Why? Sam

Dear Sam,
Ears produce wax every day to protect them by trapping and preventing dust, germs and foreign objects from entering and damaging the ear.

The ear cleans itself when wax moves to the entrance, where it falls out or is removed during regular cleaning of the body.

In some people, the ears make too much wax, which can build up and harden, blocking the ear canal. This can lead to blockage, hearing loss, noises in the ear and pain. The wax is easily removed using eardrops that soften it so it can be removed by the doctor with a syringe with water, using suctioning or curettage. The build-up of wax may recur, because the ear canal is constantly producing wax.