What to Do When Stress Makes a Boil Worse

Stress cannot cause a boil, but it can aggravate the condition in some circumstances.

woman experiencing stress

In today's unpredictable world, people experience stressors all around them. When stress arises, both emotional and physiological changes can occur. These uncomfortable changes might include hormonal imbalances, poor quality of sleep, and even changes to the skin. Skin abscesses, also known as boils, are caused by bacteria, but can become much worse with stress.

The effects of stress can be painful. If you're experiencing boils made worse by stress, learn more about what they are, why they occur, and how to prevent them to find some relief.

What Is a Boil?

In medical settings, a boil is known as an abscess. It is a bacterial infection inside the surface of the skin. Typically, the infection that causes boils enters the body through oil glands, hair follicles, or abrasions.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), boils are typically caused by staphylococcus aureus bacteria. These bacteria live naturally on the outer surface of the skin, but when they enter the body they can cause an infection. Once inside the body, the infection is able to take root and grow. The condition is referred to as a staph infection.

A boil begins as a tender, inflamed area. After about a week, it becomes a pus-filled lump or bump. Boils can present as yellow or red in color, and look similar to a pimple. However, they are rooted much deeper in the skin due to the infection and can be extremely painful. The NIH lists that they are most commonly found on the face and neck areas, but can also develop in armpits, the groin, on the back, and throughout areas on the legs.

Can Stress Cause Boils?

Stress may create an environment where boils can occur. Stress and boils are associated for several reasons.

Stress can affect the body in many different ways. It can decrease a person's immune system, which leaves them more susceptible to infection. Stress can also make it more difficult to fight the infection.

Stress also induces hormonal changes in the body, causing the skin to be more sensitive and reactive. This may lead to rashes, irritation, or itchiness on the skin. Scratching can cause the skin to break or tear, allowing bacteria to enter the body. This combination of circumstances can set up an environment where boils can occur.

Treatment Options

woman discussing medical issue with doctor

The NIH provides guidance for managing boils when they occur, and notes that they usually resolve on their own with a simple intervention. Once a boil appears, several treatment options might reduce the infection and help you to feel better.

Seek Medical Attention

Although boils usually resolve on their own, it may be helpful to consult with your healthcare provider about treatment, especially if you are experiencing pain. You might also want to reach out to your provider if many different areas need treatment.

In some cases, boils can lead to a fever or swollen and sore lymph nodes. You might also feel tired and weak. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should contact a medical professional.

Relieve Stress

Because stress can lead to an environment where skin problems might develop, one way to help get rid of boils is by reducing the amount of stress you are experiencing. Try to alleviate factors that cause stress throughout your day. For instance, incorporate stress management activities like deep breathing exercises or meditation into your schedule. Or, decrease your workload, if possible.

Use a Warm Compress

Applying a warm, moist compress several times a day can help to increase circulation and bring healing cells to the area around the boil. Gentle heat in the area can help provide some relief.

Also, refrain from pressing, popping, or stabbing the boil as this may cause more bacteria to spread through the infection. It may also increase the chances of another infection in nearby areas of the skin.

Drain It

Once the boil comes to a head, it may be ready to drain. For larger boils, visit a medical professional who will be able to make a small incision, drain and clean the wound, and bandage it to keep it safe from infection while the incision heals. Smaller boils usually drain on their own from the warm compresses or drawing salves prescribed by medical professionals. Again, do not attempt to pop or drain a boil on your own.

Use Antibiotics

When the boil is accompanied by additional surrounding skin infection and a temperature, a physician may prescribe antibiotics. Antibiotics work in conjunction with the draining of the boil. A topical antibiotic ointment may also be prescribed to help with the skin surrounding areas of infection.

Boil Prevention

There are a few basic steps people can take in order to avoid or reduce the experience of boils. One way is to keep bacteria under control. Practice good hygiene such as thorough hand and skin washing, keeping cuts covered, and not exchanging personal items that may contain bacteria, such as razors.

Reducing stress is also important to maintain a strong immune system and reduce the chances that a boil will form. The proper diagnosis and treatment of underlying conditions (such as diabetes, cancer, or eczema) is also important as the NIH notes that these conditions put people at a heightened risk for developing boils.

Though skin abscesses are a common type of skin infection according to the NIH, stress-induced boils and the underlying causes can be particularly painful and disrupt your life. Reducing daily stressors, keeping skin clean and healthy, and seeking the help of medical professionals in order to drain the wound will reduce the chances of reoccurrence of developing boils.

What to Do When Stress Makes a Boil Worse