Purulent drainage is a thick and milky discharge from a wound. It often indicates an infection and needs treatment as soon as possible.
Regularly inspecting a wound is an integral part of the healing process. Understanding how purulent drainage differs from other types of drainage can help identify and treat it. However, there are still times when visiting the doctor is needed to avoid complications.
Purulent drainage is liquid or discharge that oozes from a wound. People usually observe this fluid has a milky look and texture.
Purulent drainage is easily spotted, as it is thick and can vary in color, from grayish or yellow to green and even brown. Purulent drainage usually indicates a sign of an infection.
Drainage changes color and thickens because of the number of living and dead germ cells within it, as well as white blood cells in the area. Purulent drainage will often increase as an infection worsens.
Understanding the other types of drainage that may come from a wound can help identify or rule out purulent drainage. Anyone who is uncertain about the type of discharge from a wound should see a doctor.
Sanguineous drainage is a bright red or pink color, as it mostly comprises fresh blood. The drainage is usually syrupy or a bit thicker than regular blood.
This type of drainage usually occurs just after receiving a wound. Sanguineous drainage that occurs after a few hours of a fresh wound may be a sign of trauma in the area.
Serous drainage comprises proteins, white blood cells, and other key cells the body uses to heal itself. It has a thin and watery consistency.
Unlike other types of drainage, serous drainage is usually clear or translucent. Too much serous drainage may be a sign of harmful germs in the area.
Serosanguineous drainage is a combination of serous and sanguineous drainage. It is the most common type of wound drainage and has a thin consistency.
It is often slightly pink or red and normally occurs in wounds, especially after changing dressings.
Some drainage is normal in wounds, but it is vital to identify potential issues by considering a few things when looking at a wound.
- Consistency: Checking the consistency of the drainage can help identify problems early. Normal drainage is thin or slightly sticky. Thick, milky drainage is often a sign of an infection.
- Amount: Most wounds will have moderate drainage at first that slows down as the wound heals. Light or moderate drainage is considered normal. A large amount of drainage may indicate an infection.
- Color: Wound drainage that is part of the healing process is usually clear or has a pale hue. Slightly colored drainage or discharge that changes color may be a sign of an infection.
- Odor: Most of the time, smell is not a good indicator of an infection. However, a foul or strong odor from a wound may indicate an infection, and the person should see a doctor.
Normal drainage is the body’s natural response to a wound. When a wound occurs, the body sends extra blood cells, inflammatory agents, and other healing compounds to the wound site to stop the bleeding and destroy any incoming germs.
The body needs to keep the area moist and saturated with these healing elements to avoid any infection, while any excess moisture usually comes out in the form of discharge.
When the drainage turns purulent, it is typically due to germs penetrating this protective barrier. Once inside the broken skin, the germs multiply and trigger an infection.
Several factors influence whether or not a wound acquires an infection. Its location, size, and general temperature around it may be factors.
People with certain disorders, such as diabetes or vascular disease, may also be at a higher risk for increased wound drainage.
Lifestyle choices, such as smoking, may put a person at risk for purulent complications in some cases. Risk factors may also come from outside the body, such as the type of dressing applied to the wound.
Infections are the most common complication of purulent drainage. A wound giving off purulent drainage usually indicates it has acquired an infection, which can worsen if left untreated.
Wounds with an infection may become chronic, which occurs when they last for more than 2–3 months without healing.
Chronic wounds are a source of pain and discomfort, and can sometimes affect a person’s quality of life and mental health.
A wound with an infection can also lead to other complications if left untreated, including:
- tetanus or lockjaw
- a necrotizing infection that leads to tissue loss
- cellulitis, which is an infection of deeper layers of the skin
- osteomyelitis, known as bone or bone marrow infection
In some cases, germs can get into the bloodstream, putting a person at risk of a dangerous condition called septicemia, or blood poisoning.
Treating heavy or purulent drainage is critical to avoid serious complications. The treatment process will vary greatly, depending on the wound.
A doctor’s first concern will be managing the underlying infection. They will also want to contain heavy drainage while still allowing the wound to stay moist enough to continue healing.
A person with an infection may require antibiotics or other medications to allow the wound to heal.
While some discharge and oozing from a wound are usual, always report any changes in discharge to a doctor. Anyone who inspects their wound and notices any signs of purulent discharge should contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
Even those who are uncertain about their symptoms should have their wounds assessed by a medical professional.
As long as the signs of purulent discharge are reported to a doctor when they appear, the outlook is generally good.
Continually monitoring a wound during the healing process is essential. Reporting any changes in discharge can help doctors identify and treat injuries that may have acquired an infection.
A wound with an infection that is left untreated or goes too long without medical treatment may lead to more serious risks and health complications.