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Carbuncle is a skin infection that often involves a group of hair follicles. The infected material forms a lump, which occurs deep in the skin and often contains pus, commonly occurs in patients with diabetes and other immune suppressive conditions. It is commonly found over the nape of the neck. It is caused by Staphylococcus aureus. The subcutaneous tissues become honeycombed by small abscesses separated by fibrous strands.

You are more likely to get a carbuncle if you have:

  • Friction from clothing or shaving
  • Poor hygiene
  • Poor overall health

People with diabetes, dermatitis, and a weakened immune system are more likely to develop staph infections that can cause carbuncles.

Staph bacteria are sometimes found in the nose or around the genitals. Carbuncles can recur when antibiotics are not able to treat the bacteria in those areas.


A carbuncle is a swollen lump or mass under the skin. It may be the size of a pea or as large as a golf ball. The carbuncle may be red and irritated and might hurt when you touch it.

A carbuncle usually:

  • Develops over several days
  • Have a white or yellow center (contains pus)
  • Weep, ooze, or crust
  • Spread to other skin areas

Sometimes, other symptoms may occur. These may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • General discomfort or sick feeling
  • Skin itching before the carbuncle develops


Surgery is rarely indicated initially. Antibiotic therapy is given and the carbuncle merely protected with sterile dressings. Occasionally, a large sloughing area eventually requires excision and a skin graft. Diabetes, if present, must be controlled.

  • Adequate systemic antibiotics in early stages
  • Aggressive debridement
  • Local wound care
  • Detect and treat predisposing factors like diabetes mellitus

Outlook (Prognosis)

Carbuncles may heal on their own. Others usually respond well to treatment.

Possible Complications

Rare complications of carbuncles include:

  • Abscess of the brain, skin, spinal cord, or organs such as the kidneys
  • Endocarditis
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Permanent scarring of the skin
  • Sepsis
  • Spread of infection to other areas
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