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Remembered Today:

Can anyone explain causes of boils?


FenClare

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Dear Forum

Can anyone explain why some soldiers tended to get l boils? This happened to one ancestor (name withheld!) who suffered from persistent boils. How were they treated? Did many soldiers develop them? [I am not talking about anything sexual here. He was very respectable!]

All info gratefully received

FenClare

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Strange, boils used to be the bane of many people's lives when I was at school. They seem relatively rare these days, perhaps improved hygiene? Certainly attempts to keep oneself clean in WW1 must have been very difficult indeed. 

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Not washing or bathing and not changing clothes regularly. Pores become blocked and infected leading to painful swelling. Usual treatment was lancing with a scalpel to remove the pus and "core" of the infection. Other methods I have seen detailed include a strap with a hole in it placed over the boil and both ends pulled sharply tight in opposite directions...

I think I would have preferred lancing....

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My mother developed boils after the death of her father. I came out with them in sympathy.

 

So stress could  be a contributing factor.

 

Bob

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2 hours ago, keithfazzani said:

Strange, boils used to be the bane of many people's lives when I was at school. They seem relatively rare these days, perhaps improved hygiene? Certainly attempts to keep oneself clean in WW1 must have been very difficult indeed. 

The boils were usually on the back of the neck on males. I assume that was because everyone went to the barber who didn't bother cleaning the clippers between customers. 

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I was looking at a surgeon probationer's journal on Friday and he had one case where multiple boils (face, chest, shoulders, back) were due to severe acne. I forget what the cure was but if I recall correctly it included a sulphur lotion and taking better care to keep clean (which can't have been easy if you were a stoker).

 

 

 

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I used to suffer from boils on my neck and also the back of my wrist when I was aged about 9 or 10 (when I was still at junior school). My mother would bathe them with a Dettol solution, and then apply a boil plaster. This was circular, with a hole in the centre so that the contents of  the boil could escape.

Martin

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the matron at our school had a swifter and far more painful solution which was simply lancing them, Dettol may have been involved but by that point one hardly noticed. 

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Steven Broomfield

Isn't that near Worthing?

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As said quite common in the days of yesteryear with many teenagers suffering from acne,boils and carbuncles...a cluster of boils.Lancing was the option if a doctor was consulted.In the absence of Lions Ointment which seemed to be the normal treatment of self help,a home remedy was a mixture of sugar and soap paste on the pad of a plaster which would draw the core and pus...worked every time but was only applied when the boil / carbuncle was at an advanced stage.

 

Postwar I do remember that it was suggested that yeast in the diet prevented skin infections such as boils.Why were young males prone to the boil and not young women....suggestions in the past related boils to puberty although I have not seen it validated.

 

As regards hygiene my mother imposed a regime of getting us to have a bath every night with the routine being bath first, then listen to the 9 o'clock news...never had a boil then it was only as a teenager did I experience the odd one....neck and a carbuncle on my forearm.

 

The wartime health authorities had to deal with outbreaks of other skin infections such as scabies and impetigo....experienced at schools and the general public at large,especially in HM Forces.

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Dear All

Thank you so much -all of this is helpful. This young soldier was in training in Kent and then was shipped over to France. Only when there did he dare to admit having this boil which prevented him from sitting down. It necessitated a stay of 15 days in hospital so it must have been bad. All of the reasons you gave could have contributed - stress, poor hygiene in the camp and maybe too other factors which pulled his health down and led to this. I expect the fabric of the uniform wasn't exactly silky either!

Many thanks

FenClare

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Plenty folk in the UK had no bathroom in their home up til the 1960's, showers only became common in the 1980's.
A weekly bath in front of the fire and daily wipe down with a wet cloth was it for most folk til a good 60 years or more after WW1.

 

Sociey was smelly. Ah, the good old days.

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That was the hot bottle method of drawing out the pus from a boil.When the open bottle top was applied to the boil,it created both a seal and then a partial vacuum as the bottle cooled which drew out the pus.

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Cyclists are prone to boils in the saddle region. The legendary "hard man" of Eire, Sean Kelly, had to retire two days from the end of a Tour of Spain when in the lead because of a boil. Other sufferers would place a steak inside their shorts. It provided extra comfort and was thought to draw the pus; I'm not sure about stories that at the end of the day's racing riders would give the steak to the cook at their overnight accommodation so it could be served as an evening meal.

 

To get back to the Great War period, I've wondered how military cyclists fared, riding heavy machines in khaki trousers. Hygiene and a change of underwear are vital to preventing saddle soreness and boils, and I suspect that both were limited a century ago.

 

Moonraker

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Thank you all - one thing that our discussion highlights is that although one naturally concentrates  on the deaths and/ or appalling injuries as  the miseries of the Great War, there were plenty of other physical problems which soldiers had to endure. Boils might not have sounded particularly "soldierly" but they must have been a consequence of military life as my ancestor  did not seem to ever suffer from them again in civilian life. Thank you for your input.

FenClare

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There could also be a problem with diet causing them. I remember in the 1950s on a tour of Spain - a coach tour from Gibraltar, a group of men came out in boils after drinking soup in a hotel.

I was only 9 at the time, but I remember vividly my father having a line of these things across the back of his neck (as did most of the others), the following day. None of the women or children had drunk it, so didn't suffer.

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On 10/19/2016 at 15:24, FenClare said:

Dear All

Thank you so much -all of this is helpful. This young soldier was in training in Kent and then was shipped over to France. Only when there did he dare to admit having this boil which prevented him from sitting down. It necessitated a stay of 15 days in hospital so it must have been bad. All of the reasons you gave could have contributed - stress, poor hygiene in the camp and maybe too other factors which pulled his health down and led to this. I expect the fabric of the uniform wasn't exactly silky either!

Many thanks

FenClare

FenClare

 

Could your ancestor have been suffering from a Perianal Abscess?  If he was, then surgery I believe was the only option.

 

Maxi

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr
3 hours ago, maxi said:

FenClare

 

Could your ancestor have been suffering from a Perianal Abscess?  If he was, then surgery I believe was the only option.

 

Maxi

Yes , could have, but it could have been lots of things.

From a straight forward boil on the b*m, Perianal abscess, Ischiorectal abscess, Pilonidal abscess, many of them due to underlying processes like inflammarory bowel disease, and so on.

Only his medical records would confirm.

Otherwise it's speculation.

But as they say- "Common things occur commonly..."

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Thank you all - I will check his records. Certainly to have been 15 days in hospital the boil/abcess must have been serious and I believe that the problem recurred.

Regards

FenClare

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I only ever had four. One each side of each knee. Still have the scars. I think dad burst them with cottonwool between his thumbs, and then some germolene on the wounds.

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  • 1 month later...

I would imagine that the poor state of most soldiers' hygiene was a large contributor to the prevalence of boils. Certainly had to be hard to maintain personal cleanliness in the trenches, or anywhere a fighting man would serve, really. 

I've had one, on the back of my neck. Came up a few days after shaving my head one summer. That was back when I was still working construction, so of course I was sweaty and filthy on the regular, and with running a mechanic business in my spare time, I stayed dirty. Oftentimes I would just wipe down with a wet rag so I could get to bed faster. I punctured it myself with a knife, which was rather difficult, given that I couldn't see it. Probably started as an ingrown hair from shaving with a garbage shaver, and my lack of personal hygiene at the time, so I could definitely see why the soldiers often dealt with boils, given that they were likely a lot dirtier than me.

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