Cyst Vs. Boil: How To Identify, Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

Written by Eshna Das , Certified Skin Care Coach

What is the difference between a cyst and a boil? Both cysts and boils are soft lumps that develop under the skin. While both are very similar in their appearance, their causes and symptoms cannot be more different. In this article about cyst vs boil, you will get a better understanding of what they are and what differentiates one from the other. Along with this, you will also read about their symptoms, causes, treatment options, and the right time to visit a doctor.

What Is A Cyst?

Cysts, also known as skin cysts, are small sacs filled with air, fluid, or semi-solid substances that can develop inside or on any part of a person’s body. Depending on the lining of the cyst and the location, they can be divided into the following types (1).

  • Epidermoid Cysts– Also known as sebaceous cysts, these commonly develop on the neck, trunk, and face. One of the most common cysts found in middle-aged adults, especially male adults, these cysts form due to the skin follicles filling up with a protein called Keratin (2).
  • Pilar Cysts– Commonly known as “wens”, pilar cysts develop on the scalp when hair follicles are clogged with keratin. Non-cancerous, these cysts are commonly found in young women and are attributed to a genetic history (3).
  • Milia– Another type of cyst formed due to the accumulation of keratin, milia often develops on the face. Mostly seen in infants and children, these cysts run their natural course and disappear on their own (4).

Now that you know what cysts are, let us get an understanding of what boils are and how they are different from cysts.

What Is A Boil?

Have you ever seen a red-colored pimple on your skin that looks angry and hurts badly? Chances are that it might be a boil. Medically known as furuncle, boils are fluid-filled bumps that develop due to bacterial infection. Usually, boils tend to go away on their own once the pus drains out from the growth (5).

From reading the above section, you can see that boils and cysts are two separate conditions that develop due to different factors. Let us look at the symptoms of each condition.

Cyst Vs Boil: Comparison Of The Symptoms

How do you differentiate between cyst vs boil? Let us look at the symptoms of the two conditions that can help you identify the condition. They are:

CystsBoils
1. Round, slow-growing lump on the skin1.Swollen, red bump on the skin
2. Filled with a yellow, foul-smelling keratin2. Filled with yellow-colored pus
3. Swollen, not painful, and warm to touch3. Painful touch and sore
4. White or yellow in color with a blackhead4. White or yellow tip from which the pus drains
5. No fever or fatigue5. Fatigue and fever

With the symptoms of cysts and boils stated above, we can move on to the next section which talks about the common places where boils and cysts appear.

What Are The Common Places For Boils And Cyst To Appear?

Cysts and boils can develop anywhere on the body, but these are the most common places you will find a boil or a cyst.

  • Boils – Boils are most commonly found in areas that cause friction to your skin. These areas are the face, neck, back, armpits, genital area, thighs, and buttocks.
  • Cysts – While cysts develop inside and all over the body, you can commonly find skin cystson the face, neck, scalp, upper back, chest, and genitals.

Both cysts and boils can develop all over the body, but knowing what they look like can be key to early diagnosis and treatment. But before we go into the treatment options, let us understand what are the factors that cause boils and cysts.

Cyst Vs Boil – Causes

Let us look at the factors that cause you to develop a boil or a cyst.

  • Cysts – While more research is required to understand the causes behind cysts, researchers have suggested a few possible factors that can contribute to the development of cysts. These factors include a family history of cysts, overexposure to the sun, injury, and trauma (2). More scientific investigations need to be done to understand the different factors that may contribute to your risk of developing cysts. Researchers have suggested that having a family history and old age may increase your risk (2).
  • Boils– Boils develop due to bacterial infection in your hair follicle. Found in the lining of nostrils and skin, staphylococcus aureus bacteria causes the skin around the cells to die and fill with pus. This leads to the development of boils (5). Studies have indicated that people with chronic diseases such as diabetes have been associated with a higher risk of developing boils (6). Research also suggests that being overweight and smoking are factors that lead to people repeatedly developing boils (7).

As you can see, cysts and boils develop due to different factors that allow medical professionals to easily diagnose them. Let’s read about factors that increase your risk of developing a boil or a cyst.

When To Consult A Doctor

If your boil or cyst does not seem to go away on its own and you experience symptoms such as fever and pain, then you should get it checked by a general physician. Early diagnosis and treatment can help speed the healing and recovery process.

Cyst Vs Boil – What Are The Treatment Options Available?

Once your doctor diagnoses your condition as a cyst or a boil, and based on the severity of the symptoms, your doctor may suggest one of the following treatments for you.

Boils

  • Hot compress – If your boil is small or growing in size, you can place a hot compress on it and allow it to burst and drain the pus out.
  • Surgery – If the boil has developed into an abscess and is bigger in size, the best option is to make a small incision and drain the pus out. Once that is done, your doctor will put a sterilized gauze to soak up the remaining pus.
  • Medications– If you see more than one boil clustered together, it is called a carbuncle. In this case, antibiotics are administered through a drip to contain the infection. After that, surgery is conducted to drain the pus from the carbuncle and the surgery site is sterilized with an antiseptic solution and allowed to heal before closing up the wound.

Cysts

  • Medications – If your cyst develops due to an infection, you can take medications such as antibiotics or corticosteroids as a way to treat cysts. These medications might help reduce the infection.
  • Surgical Excision– This is a surgical procedure that is conducted to remove skin growths such as moles, warts, cysts, etc. In this surgery, you are administered a local anesthetic around the cyst. Your doctor will make a cut, rupture the lining and drain the pus out.

Depending on the location and severity of your boil or cysts, your doctor will prescribe the appropriate treatment that can reduce their recurrence. Let’s read next about some simple tips that can help avoid boils or cysts.

Cyst Vs Boil: Prevention Tips

They say prevention is better than treatment. While cysts cannot be prevented, here are a few simple tips that may help you prevent the development of boils.

  • Maintaining good personal hygiene and washing regularly can go a long way in stopping the growth of boils.
  • Washing your utensils and clothes with hot water and soap can help prevent the infection from spreading to people around you.

Summary

When it comes to cyst vs boil, both might look similar but they are completely different in their causes and symptoms. Cysts and boils are two separate conditions that can cause equal distress if not treated properly. If you experience symptoms such as foul-smelling fluid coming out of the growth, pain, or fever, it is advisable that you visit your doctor immediately. If the boil or cyst does not recede on its own, medications or surgical excision might be necessary. But before it reaches that far, it is strongly recommended that you maintain good personal hygiene to prevent developing them in the first place.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

Can you pop a cyst?

No. It is strongly advised that you do not pop a cyst as it increases the chance of developing an infection.

Can you put toothpaste on a boil?

No. If your boil is small in size, you can apply a warm cloth with a special ointment given by the doctor to help draw the pus out.

Can I put hydrogen peroxide on a boil?

No. It is better to consult a doctor who will prescribe you the right treatment based on the severity of the issue.

References:

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Skin Cyst: A Pathological Dead-End With a New Twist of Morphogenetic Potentials in Organoid Cultures
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33511139/
  2. Epidermoid Cyst
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499974/
  3. Pilar Cyst
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK534209/
  4. Milia
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560481/
  5. Boils and Carbuncles: Overview
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513141/
  6. Diabetes Mellitus and the Skin
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC5312172/
  7. Incidence and Recurrence of Boils and Abscesses within the First Year: a Cohort Study in UK Primary Care
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC4582880/
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