What Is Purulent Drainage?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on March 06, 2024
4 min read

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 in helping a wound heal without further problems. But you might notice that you have symptoms of an infection, including something doctors call purulent discharge.

Purulent discharge is a serious symptom, and you should not ignore it. Learn more about wound infections and purulent discharge.

Any time your skin is injured, 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, other fluids might appear as well.

You may notice a 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. These 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 become 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 drainage is a sign of infection. It’s made up of white blood cells trying to fight the infection, plus the residue from any bacteria pushed out of the wound. The fluid may also have an unpleasant smell.

What does purulent drainage look like?

It’s a white, yellow, or brown fluid and might be slightly thick in texture.

Infected wound symptoms

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 on the surrounding skin

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

If you have purulent discharge or other symptoms of infection, you will need treatment so that it doesn’t get worse.

Cleaning infected wounds

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.

Abscesses and purulent drainage

In some cases, your doctor might find that an abscess has formed. 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.

Jackson-Pratt (JP) drains and purulent drainage

A JP drain is a type of suction device that helps you draw fluid from a wound after surgery. A bulb at the end of it collects fluid, which you'll have to routinely empty. You'll also need to watch for any changes in the fluid's color, which can tell your doctor if you're healing properly or if there's an infection. If the drainage turns from light to dark, is milky white, or has an odor, tell your doctor.

Septic infections

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.

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


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 how much serous drainage you have. Too much of it may be an early sign of infection.


Sanguineous drainage is another word for blood seeping from a wound. It looks red and is 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.‌‌


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.

If you have an open wound, it's essential to keep it clean and follow your doctor's instructions to avoid infection. Purulent discharge, which is a thick, white, yellow, or brown fluid coming from the wound, is a sign of infection and should not be ignored. Along with the discharge, you may have symptoms such as fever, pain, redness, or swelling around the wound. Infections need treatment right away, which may include cleaning the wound, applying new dressings, and sometimes antibiotics.

Other types of wound drainage, such as serous (thin and watery) or sanguineous (bloody), are normal during the healing process but should also be closely watched. Proper wound care and prompt medical attention for signs of infection are crucial to avoid further health problems.