Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Bummed by Boils?

Bummed by Boils?
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Q: How do you get rid of boils? -- Bob H.

A: Boils are pus-filled lumps that usually occur when one or more hair follicles become infected with Staphylococcus aureus, bacterium that can enter the skin through a scratch or cut. Anyone can develop a boil, but you're more susceptible if you're in poor health, have diabetes, or are taking immune-suppressing medications. Other risk factors are skin irritation from tight clothing or such skin problems as acne and dermatitis.

In most cases, you can deal with a boil yourself by applying a hot compress or washcloth for about 10 minutes several times a day, If possible, use salt water, which can hasten rupture and drainage (add a teaspoon of salt to one quart of boiling water; let the water cool some before applying). You could also use tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) applied at full strength three to four times a day, and continue for two weeks after the boil disappears.

Never squeeze or lance a boil yourself - you risk spreading the infection. See your doctor for boils that are very painful, don't heal within two weeks, are accompanied by fever or recur frequently. Red lines emanating from a boil may mean that the infection is spreading to your blood stream. If this occurs, call your doctor immediately.

Boils that recur or don't heal promptly are typically treated with antibiotics, which can become problematic because of the risks of developing a dependence on the drugs or encouraging the growth of resistant strains of bacteria that will only make matters worse. I urge you to be cautious about cycles of antibiotics.

To prevent boils from recurring, I would try taking astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous) the root of a plant native to China that can boost the immune system and help prevent infections. Take two capsules or tablets twice a day unless the label directs otherwise.

In addition, I suggest trying immune enhancing medicinal mushrooms. Use a combination formula that contains extracts of species like maitake, shiitake, reishi, and cordyceps. I also recommend trying mind/body techniques such as hypnotherapy or visualization, which can help heal skin disorders.

Andrew Weil, MD

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