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What Is Purulent Drainage?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 22, 2021

If you have any injury with open skin, you need to take care of it to avoid infection. Keeping a wound clean, washing your hands before touching it, and following any instructions from your doctor will go a long way to helping a wound heal without complications. However, you might notice that you have symptoms of an infection, including something doctors call purulent discharge. 

Purulent discharge is a severe symptom, and you should not ignore it if you notice it in a wound. Learn more about wound infections and purulent discharge. 

What Is Wound Drainage?

Any time you break the skin, there will be some kind of fluid that comes out. Blood is the most common fluid you will see when you injure yourself. As the wound heals, there will be other fluids that might appear as well. 

You may notice clear fluid or fluid with a pink or yellow tint draining from the broken skin or the surgical site if you had an operation. These are part of the healing process that your body deploys when you get injured. The fluids carry proteins, sugars, and white blood cells that are critical to repairing the injury. 

In some cases, you will see something called purulent drainage from your wound. This is an indication that the injury has gotten infected. If this happens, you need to contact your doctor. An infection needs treatment before it makes the injury worse or makes you sick.

Purulent Wound Drainage

Purulent drainage is a sign of infection. It’s a white, yellow, or brown fluid and might be slightly thick in texture. It’s made up of white blood cells trying to fight the infection, plus the residue from any bacteria pushed out of the wound. There may be an unpleasant smell to the fluid, as well.

You might notice other symptoms along with the purulent discharge. Some signs of an infected wound include:‌

  • Fever
  • Redness and heat around the wound 
  • Increased pain or swelling
  • The wound looks like it’s opening instead of healing
  • The color or size of the wound changes
  • Red streaks appear in the surrounding skin

If this happens on a wound, you need to speak to a doctor right away. Infections need immediate treatment.

How to Treat a Wound Infection

If you have purulent discharge or other symptoms of infection, you will need treatment so that it doesn’t get worse. Your doctor may need to clean the wound and apply new dressings. They can rinse the site with an antibiotic solution if the infection is small. If it is more extensive, you may also need antibiotics to take care of the infection completely.

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In some cases, your doctor might find that an abscess has developed. This happens when an infection causes a pocket of pus to form somewhere in the wound. Your doctor might need to drain the abscess to clear the infection entirely.

In very serious cases, an infection in a wound can spread beyond the original location. It could become a septic infection that affects your whole body. When this happens, you might need hospital care. However, this is not common. 

Other Types of Wound Drainage

There are other types of drainage that you may see coming from a wound: 

Serous. Serous drainage is thin and watery. It’s similar to blood plasma, and a certain amount of it is expected in the early healing stages. Doctors might check to see how much serous drainage you have. Too much of it may be an early sign of infection. 

Sanguineous. Sanguineous drainage is another word for blood seeping from a wound. It looks red, and it’s normal, especially in the earliest healing stages. It can also happen if you re-injure yourself while you’re healing. For example, if you have a wound on your hand and accidentally knock it on something, you might see some sanguineous drainage. You can reopen some of the blood vessels in the wound and cause new bleeding. You can call your doctor if you are concerned about it.‌‌

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Serosanguineous. Serosanguieous drainage is a combination of blood and serous fluids. It’s usually clear with a reddish or pinkish tint. It usually means that there is some minor bleeding from the capillaries in the wound. It’s not serious unless it progresses to heavy bleeding. Still, you can ask your doctor if you are worried about it. 

Taking proper care of a wound is the best way to prevent an infection. If you notice purulent drainage or any other symptoms of infection in a wound, contact your doctor right away. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Fairview Health Services: “Recognizing and Treating Wound Infection.”

Urgent Medical Care “TYPES OF WOUND DRAINAGE AND HOW TO TELL WHEN IT IS SERIOUS.”

Wound Care Education Institute: “Exudate: The Type and Amount Is Telling You Something.”

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