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What Are the Common Causes of Green Pus?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Green pus is almost always a sign of infection somewhere in the body, though there are a number of different specific causes. In general, the greenish color indicates the presence of certain antibacterial proteins. This isn’t in and of itself very telling when it comes to seriousness or harmfulness of the infection, and it’s usually just a matter of individual immune response and body chemistry. These sorts of proteins are usually carried in the white blood cells and can be produced for a number of reasons. Green pus can be concerning to see, but in most cases it will go away on its own. Anyone who is worried about the amount of pus they see, particularly if it seems to change color or if the condition causing it seems to be getting worse, should probably talk to a medical expert for help. Sometimes pus-related infections require strong medications like antibiotics to go away.

Antibacterial Proteins

Pus is most commonly a sort of brownish-yellow color, and green tinges are usually a bit more unusual. This doesn’t mean that green is necessarily any more concerning or alarming, though. Most all pus is made up of dead bacterial cells and other proteins that are basically waste products from the body’s war against a particular infection. A green color happens most often when there is an enzyme known as myeloperoxidase in with this mix. Myeloperoxidase is a specific antibacterial protein that is made by white blood cells, and can be helpful in fighting off certain kinds of infections.

Not everyone’s cells make this enzyme, nor do all make it in response to any specific sort of infection. In most cases, green coloring simply indicates that this protein has been secreted. It doesn’t say much about the severity of the infection or its causes.

Common Sightings

Green pus frequently occurs in response to upper respiratory infections like bronchitis or sinus infections. People suffering from these conditions may cough up or sneeze out pus, also sometimes called “mucus” when it occurs in the respiratory tract, that looks somewhat green. In most cases the pus will change colors as the infection progresses, but not always. This sort of coloring may also be present in simple problems like acne build-up, as well as in more serious conditions like internal abscesses and progressed skin infections.

Causes for Concern

Pus color itself doesn’t usually say anything about how serious an infection is, but there are certain warning signs that individuals should be aware of in terms of looking out for conditions that may be more worrisome. Open wounds that are very painful and which have large amount of pus in any color should usually be checked by a doctor, for instance. Pus that occurs internally may be harder to notice. The first sign of a serious internal infection is usually pain in the area of the problem and a high fever. For this reason, anyone with who has pain in a generalized location combined with a fever is usually wise to get a professional opinion and formal check-up.

Treatment and Care

Infections that produce green pus will often go away on their own, but not always. In general, experts recommend that people get help if their pus stays bright and vibrant in color for more than about a week, since this can indicate an on-going infection that may be growing in strength; changing colors can also be a cause for alarm, since this can indicate an escalated immune response. Noticing more pus can also be a sing of a problem, particularly if the condition is on-going. Most infections that don’t seem to be going away on their own are treated with antibiotic medications. These have to be prescribed by a doctor in many countries since specific antibiotics are more appropriate for treating certain types of infections.

In terms of basic care, anyone with an open wound should clean it thoroughly and cover it with a bandage to prevent dirt and bacteria from entering. It is also a good idea for people to use an antibacterial ointment on external wounds. If pus, redness, swelling, pain, or oozing or any kind occurs, an infection has more than likely taken hold and further treatment may be necessary.

When Will You See Green Pus?

You might see pus in different situations, and not all are cause for alarm. In many instances, pus is the body’s natural reaction to infection. Pus is a combination of white blood cells in decline, bacteria, microorganisms, and dead tissue. It can be any color, including white, yellow, brown, and green.

Small amounts of pus form on minor cuts and in pimples. You can make sure it isn’t serious by pressing a warm compress against the site. If the pain recedes and the pus goes away, then you don’t need to take further action. The wound is healing naturally.

After Surgery

It’s common to see pus after you have surgery, but there are ways to prevent it. Wash your entire body before surgery, but don’t shave. The razor will irritate your skin and make it more susceptible to infection.

After surgery, follow the doctor’s instructions exactly. No one should touch your wound unless they’re the person caring for you and changing the dressings. In that case, they always need to wash their hands before and after touching it. You also need to wash your hands and body carefully. If the wound doesn’t heal within a month or so, contact your doctor.

Skin Conditions

Pus is a common side effect of many skin conditions, including:

  • Abscesses
  • Acne
  • Boils
  • Folliculitis

In these conditions, your body sends white blood cells to fight off potential infection. Most are relatively simple to treat. Antibiotics can take care of most skin infections, so you’ll want to visit your doctor. Don’t put any medication or ointment on the sites, as that can make the infection worse.

Fighting Infection

You’ll see pus when your body is fighting infection. Some common situations include:

  • Abscessed tooth
  • Middle ear inflammation
  • Peritonsillar abscess
  • Septic arthritis

An abscessed tooth can ooze pus due to an infection at the root of your tooth. You’ll have to go to the dentist so they can drain the pus. They’ll most likely perform a root canal to prevent the infection from occurring again. They could also choose to pull the tooth.

A middle ear inflammation, also called otitis media, is a build-up of fluid in the ears. A specialist can drain the fluid and pus before inserting a grommet to prevent future problems.

Peritonsillar abscesses are instances of pus at the back of your throat or on your tonsils. They can be an independent infection, a sign of tonsillitis, or an oncoming strep throat.

Septic arthritis is a joint infection that progresses as bacteria travel through your bloodstream. It builds up in your joints and causes a painful infection. Specialists can remove the fluid using a process called arthrocentesis.

Symptoms of Green Pus Infection

You might see green pus on a minor wound. There’s no reason to feel alarmed in that case because it’s just a sign of myeloperoxidase proteins present in the pus. But you might have a more severe infection if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Redness, pain, and inflammation around the wound
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Shivering with clammy skin

These are signs of severe infection and possibly sepsis, so you must contact a medical professional immediately.

Green Pus Prevention

Sometimes an infection occurs when you’re unaware of the possibility, such as after surgery or if you get a minor cut that goes unnoticed. But there are several things you can do to prevent green pus, or at least reduce your chances of developing this type of infection.

Wash your cuts and wounds with soap and water as soon as you notice them. Don’t drain pus from the wound—it’s your body trying to fight off infection, so you should leave it alone. Cover the wound with a bandage to prevent more bacteria from getting in the cut.

If you have pimples, boils, or other minor skin conditions oozing pus, don’t squeeze the pus out. Press a warm compress against the infected area several times a day. The heat can ease the pain and discomfort while also helping the pus drain naturally.

General health can also help prevent pus drainage and infections. Eat a healthy diet, get enough exercise, and don’t smoke. If you have a health condition like diabetes, take care of your blood sugar. Don’t share towels or razors with anyone else, as this can pass along infections.

If you have an abscess or wound draining pus for several days without letting up, don’t try and fix the problem yourself. Contact your doctor; a medical professional will know what to do.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By pleonasm — On Sep 26, 2013

It's amazing how much pus there can actually be in a sore spot, below the surface. For some reason I'm prone to getting an infection in a spot around my eye and sometimes it swells up so much it's embarrassing and the doctor has to drain it.

I'm always a little bit shocked by how much fluid comes out of it. I guess it just builds up and builds up until it becomes really obvious and painful.

They put me on antibiotics, but they only work in the short term unfortunately. I guess I'm lucky that the pus is never green, but usually white or yellow, so I'm not in danger from a serious infection, but it is very annoying.

By KoiwiGal — On Sep 25, 2013

@Iluviaporos - If there is any pus at all, I would go to a doctor for surgical scars. It's just too easy to pick up an infection in a hospital these days.

I think people mistake other fluids for pus though. If it is actually thick and green or yellow and is still liquid, then it is pus. If it's crusty it might just be lymph fluid or the wound trying to scab over, which is perfectly natural and healthy.

By lluviaporos — On Sep 24, 2013

@anon348904 - I'm not a doctor and I think you should definitely go to get the advice of a doctor if you're worried, but I would suggest that it depends on how much pus there is in the wound. I sounds like there is only a little bit of pus on the bandaid which isn't too bad.

I've had cuts that have become a little bit infected and which had a little bit of pus in them, but which cleared up very quickly. There wasn't any need for extra medication.

But, if your incisions start looking red or hot and if there is more than a little bit of pus then I would go straight to the doctor. The problem with surgical wounds is that they are quite deep, so an infection can go very deep very quickly.

By anon348904 — On Sep 21, 2013

I had surgery in mid September and three of my incisions opened. But they started healing and I started putting neosporin on them to help the scarring with the healing. I took my the bandaid off and it had greenish yellow pus on it. Does it mean it's infected?

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