If you’ve ever had a cut that seems to ooze “white stuff” or have noticed a white pimple on your face, then you’ve seen pus. Pus may be disgusting to look at, but it is actually a sign of your body’s ability to fight infections. Pus means your white blood cells are attacking infections present on or in your body.
Pus can be white, slightly yellow or green, and is relatively thick, approximately the same as Elmer’s Glue. It’s actually a collection of dead skin cells, white blood cells called neutrophils, and some bacteria that is still putting up a fight. It is a visible sign that you have an infection. A minor source of tiny amounts of pus, as in a pimple, merely needs to be washed and cleaned with an antiseptic. Many infections that show pus are derived from staph bacteria, which we all have in some amount on our skin.
With small pimples, it is sufficient to use hot compresses, so that the pus drains. After a daily compress treatment, you should always be sure to use an antiseptic on the pimple. Further, wash your hands after dealing with pus in pimples, because it can still contain live bacteria which can be spread to those around you, or infect other areas of your skin. It’s usually fine to ignore small pimples until they go away. Your body is battling to fight off this small infection, and often wins this battle.
Pus coming from a wound, or a pimple that gets larger and larger, especially if it is above the cheekbone and below the forehead, suggests the body may need a little extra help fighting the infection. In these cases, a wait and see approach to pus is definitely not recommended. Untreated infections that the body can’t fight can lead to staph infections in the blood, which can be extremely serious.
If you have a great deal of pus coming from a wound, and the wound feels hard, hot, or has red streaks, these are the early signs of an infection called cellulitis, and you should see a doctor right away. Normally, a simple course of antibiotics will clear up the pus and the infection and will promote wound healing. Waiting can mean delaying healing and risking your overall health.
Pus can also be a source of infection to others, especially when there is a lot of it. If you are helping others treat an infected wound, or treating your own, you definitely want to observe excellent handwashing techniques each time you touch the wound. If you’re caring for someone else and have an infected wound, you want to keep this completely covered with bandages so as not to infect others. Young children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to staph infections.
Often, our body makes pus that we never see. For example, doctors often diagnose ear infections by noting pus in the ear canal. Organs can also be filled with pus, signalling serious infections. Sometimes a person might notice a thick yellowish or whitish fluid while urinating, suggesting a bladder infection which should be checked out by a doctor.
As ironic as it may seem, however, a small amount of pus, particularly in a pimple, is a sign of good health. People who don’t produce enough neutrophils also don’t produce enough pus, and can have a terrible time fighting off infections. In people with healthy immune systems, a simple pus filled pimple suggests your body is working as it should.