Boils In Children

Boils In Children

A boil is a tender red lump on the skin - an infection caused by bacteria. Boils are not usually a serious problem and you can treat most boils at home, especially if you notice them early. Sometimes, boils need more treatment.


Key points about boils

  • a boil is a tender red lump on the skin
  • a boil is an infection caused by bacteria
  • most tamariki (children) with boils are otherwise healthy
  • boils are not usually a serious problem
  • if your child has a fever, increasing pain or the infection keeps spreading, go to see a health professional

What are boils?

  • a boil is a tender, red lump on the skin
  • a boil is caused by a bacterial infection (usually Staphylococcus aureus) of the hair root or sweat pore 
  • boils are not usually a serious problem
  • sometimes the boils may spread to other parts of the body 
  • larger boils may form abscesses

What puts my child at risk of getting boils?

Anyone can develop a boil.

Some of the following conditions can increase the risk of your child getting boils:

  • eczema
  • skin with grazes or cuts - these can allow bacteria to enter 
  • weakened defence system (immune deficiency)

What are the signs and symptoms of boils?

  • a hard, red and sore lump on your child’s skin
  • increasing size and soreness of the lump
  • development of a white or yellow centre in the lump, filled with pus, which can sometimes burst

When should I seek help for my child's boil?

You should see a health professional if:

  • your child is complaining of lots of pain or discomfort
  • your child develops a fever
  • the skin around the boil has redness that is spreading
  • the boil keeps getting bigger
  • boils keep appearing
  • your child has an immune problem

Sometimes, a boil can turn into an abscess. This is a large, deep boil. If you think your child's boil has become an abscess, take them to see a health professional. This may need hospital treatment.

See a health professional urgently if:

  • there is a boil or any redness near your child's eye

How can I care for my child with a boil at home?

You can treat most boils at home, especially if you notice them early.

Use a warm facecloth

To help the boil open up and drain, try using a warm facecloth. Put it on the boil for several minutes. Do this a few times a day. Always wash your hands before and after touching the boil.

Practice good hygiene

Boils can spread very easily. If the boil opens on its own and drains, wipe away the pus or blood with a clean cloth. Wash and dry the area well and then cover it with a plaster. This stops it from spreading and stops your child from scratching it. Wash and dry your hands before and after touching the boil.

Wash your child all over with warm soapy water or use an antiseptic solution such as Savlon or Dettol. Follow the directions on the bottle for making the solution. Use a separate towel and facecloth for your child. Wash used towels often, in hot water, along with clothing worn close to the skin.

Don't squeeze the boil

Squeezing the boil into the surrounding skin can cause a more serious infection and will be painful.

Keep an eye on the boil

If other boils appear or the boil gets bigger or more painful, take your child to a health professional.

Give pain relief if necessary

Most tamariki will not need any medicine. 

Give your child paracetamol, if needed, to help with the soreness. You must follow the dosage instructions on the bottle. It is dangerous to give more than the recommended dose.

What treatments are available if my child's boil gets worse?


Your health professional may prescribe antibiotic medicine. If your child needs to take antibiotics, follow the instructions and take them until they are finished. Do not stop the antibiotics early. 


If your child's boil has become an abscess, they may need an operation.

During the operation

Your child will need a general anaesthetic because it is painful.

The surgeon will cut (incise) the abscess, remove the pus and put a sterile dressing over the cut to absorb any draining pus. 

Your child may need antibiotics through an intravenous drip (into a vein).

After the operation

Your child will not usually need to stay in hospital.

If your child has a dressing, the healthcare team at the hospital will give you instructions about what to do. It's important not to get the dressing wet.

What if my child keeps getting boils?

Sometimes tamariki can suffer from recurrent boils, which can spread to other household members. This is usually because a child carries a strain of bacteria that can easily cause infection of any broken skin (minor cuts and scrapes). It's important to treat all household members with skin infections to stop the infection spreading.

Your doctor may take a swab of the boil to see what treatment is best.

Treatments to get rid of bacteria on the skin

This may include strategies like:

  • having dilute bleach baths twice a week
  • washing all your child's towels and bedding in hot water
  • using an antiseptic wash in the shower when your child has cuts or scrapes

See the KidsHealth page about bleach baths.

Your doctor may also suggest:

  • using a different antibiotic for a longer course
  • using an antiseptic wash for a week
  • putting an antibiotic cream in the nostrils (where the bacteria often live)

See more KidsHealth content on skin infections

Find out how to stop skin infections.

Find out what to do if your child has a skin infection.


This page last reviewed 31 October 2023.

Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 any time of the day or night for free health advice when you need it