A large boil with multiple openings. Carbuncles may reach the size of an apple. They cause severe throbbing pain associated with fever and a general feeling of being unwell (malaise). Carbuncles usually occur where the skin is thick, especially on the back of the neck. Extension beneath the skin is probably favored by the thickness of the skin here, whereas elsewhere the infection would “come to a head.” Carbuncles are particularly common in persons whose defense against infection is reduced due to other debilitating illness, such as diabetes mellitus.

Treatment of carbuncles involves the administration of appropriate antibiotics. The application of local heat may relieve pain. Surgical drainage is sometimes performed, but it is often ineffective since there is no single collection of pus.

Before antibiotic therapy was available carbuncles were potentially dangerous, often leading to blood poisoning and even death. Now, with appropriate antibiotic therapy, they usually are cured, although in some cases the infecting microorganisms become resistant to one or more of the antibiotics, making successful treatment more difficult.

Car"bun*cle (?), n. [L. carbunculus a little coal, a bright kind of precious stone, a kind of tumor, dim. of carbo coal: cf. F. carboncle. See Carbon.]

1. Min.

A beautiful gem of a deep red color (with a mixture of scarlet) called by the Greeks anthrax; found in the East Indies. When held up to the sun, it loses its deep tinge, and becomes of the color of burning coal. The name belongs for the most part to ruby sapphire, though it has been also given to red spinel and garnet.

2. Med.

A very painful acute local inflammation of the subcutaneous tissue, esp. of the trunk or back of the neck, characterized by brawny hardness of the affected parts, sloughing of the skin and deeper tissues, and marked constitutional depression. It differs from a boil in size, tendency to spread, and the absence of a central core, and is frequently fatal. It is also called anthrax.

3. Her.

A charge or bearing supposed to represent the precious stone. It has eight scepters or staves radiating from a common center. Called also escarbuncle.


© Webster 1913.

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