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.