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A pustule is a vesicle filled with pus and located under the surface of the skin. They are probably most commonly associated with acne, a common dermatological condition for teenagers, although they are linked with other medical issues. While one may look unpleasant, it is often benign, as long as it is well cared for. Recurrent pustules, those which grow large, or ones that develop signs of additional infection and inflammation may require the attention of a dermatologist.
Pustules can form inside the layers of the epidermis, or just below it, in the dermis. They are filled with a collection of dead cells that are in the process of breaking down. If one is ruptured, a thick white fluid will ooze out. White blood cells are typically abundant in a pustule, in contrast with normal vesicles that are simply filled with fluid, and no necrotic inflammatory cells.
Many of these lesions will resolve themselves on their own. The dead cells may be reabsorbed and expressed, or the pustule will eventually rupture, allowing the pus to drain. The site will eventually heal, with the skin returning to normal, but if it becomes severely inflamed, it can cause a scar. Scars can also occur when lesions keep occurring in the same spot, or when people pick at them.
Treatment for pustules at home usually involves keeping the area clean by gently washing it with warm water and soap. A dermatologist may also recommend hot compresses to see if they will open the pores in the skin enough to allow the vesicles to drain. For larger or more serious ones, a dermatologist can drain the pus and flush them to reduce the risk of developing an infection. People should try to avoid draining or rupturing them on their own, as this can increase the chances of developing an infection.
Patients should be aware that not all pustules are acne related. Some are associated with certain types of rashes, and a sudden outbreak can be a sign that someone has an underlying disease or condition which merits a trip to see a medical professional. He or she can examine the lesions to determine the cause and make recommendations about treatment. They can also form when there is a foreign body under the skin that the body cannot get rid of, such as a splinter, which leads to inflammation and a subsequent buildup of pus.