A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Is pus a problem? Recognizing skin infections

Woman checking her skin - What to know about pus

Don’t fret over a pimple, but see your doctor if a bump, boil, wound or surgical incision starts oozing pus.

From boogers to pus, our bodies can produce pretty funky fluids.

Made of bacteria mixed with white blood cells that our bodies use to fight infections, pus is most often seen in skin infections like pimples, abscesses and surgical incisions.

Pus is a substance that is produced by a battle between our immune cells and bacteria.

“A wound that’s oozing pus definitely means you have a bacterial infection,” said Dr. Brady Didion, a Marshfield Clinic Health System family medicine physician.

An incision or wound that’s healing well looks slightly red and may seep clear fluid. An infected wound may ooze whitish, yellowish or greenish pus. It looks red, feels warm and painful, and it may be accompanied by fever and chills.

Know when to get serious about pus

An untreated infected wound can lead to a more serious infection. The infection can spread to your bloodstream and deeper tissue. A slow-healing open wound increases your risk for other types of infections.

A wound is more likely to become infected in people with weakened immune systems, diabetes or other chronic medical conditions like kidney, heart and lung disease because their immune systems aren’t strong enough to fight infections.

See a doctor if you have an infected cut, surgical wound, skin bump or boil that’s warm to the touch and draining pus.

Any infection that is painful, red or maybe has pus inside should be looked at by a doctor the same day,” Didion said.

Your provider may drain the area, clean the infected area using sterile tools and prescribe antibiotics. To help ensure they are prescribing the right antibiotics, they may sample (or ‘culture’) the pus. Large wounds or abscesses may need to be cleaned and drained by a surgeon.

Don’t fret over a simple pimple

A small amount of pus sometimes forms in pimples. It usually isn’t a big deal, and you can manage it at home. You probably don’t need to see a doctor unless a pimple gets swollen, red and painful.

“Use a warm compress to draw it out of pimples, but don’t pop or squeeze them,” Didion said.

For questions about pus, talk to a Marshfield Clinic Health System provider.

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