Regularly inspecting a wound is an important 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 will be necessary to avoid complications.
What is purulent drainage?
Purulent drainage may be a sign of infection from a wound.
Purulent drainage is liquid or discharge that oozes from a wound. It is usually described as having a milky look and texture to it.
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 is usually considered a sign of 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 the infection worsens.
Other types of wound drainage
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 coming from a wound should see a doctor.
Sanguineous drainage is a bright red or pink color, as it is made up mostly of 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 receiving the wound may be a sign of trauma in the area.
Serous drainage is made up of 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 drainage 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.
Examining a wound
People should monitor the color and odor of any wound drainage.
Some drainage is normal in wounds, but it is vital to identify problematic drainage 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 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 be a sign of 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 infection.
- Odor: Most of the time, odor is not a good indicator of infection. However, a foul or strong odor coming from a wound can be a sign of infection and should be referred to a doctor.
Causes and risk factors
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 site of the wound 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 infection, and any excess moisture usually comes out in the form of discharge.
When the drainage turns purulent, it is typically because some type of germ was able to get through this protective barrier. Once inside the broken skin, the germs multiply and cause an infection.
There are several factors that influence whether or not a wound becomes infected. Its location, size, and the general temperature around it may be contributors.
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 that is put on the wound.
The number one complication of purulent drainage is the infection. A wound giving off purulent drainage is usually infected, and this can get worse if it is left untreated.
Infected wounds may become chronic, which occurs when they last for more than 2 to 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.
Wound infections can also lead to other complications if they are left untreated, including:
- tetanus or lockjaw
- 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 the person at risk of a dangerous condition called septicemia, or blood poisoning.
Antibiotics may be recommended to help treat an infection.
Treating heavy or purulent drainage is critical to avoid serious complications. The treatment process will vary greatly, depending on the wound. The location, size, and type of wound will all determine the treatment process.
A doctor's first concern will be treating the underlying infection. They will also want to contain heavy drainage while still allowing for the wound to stay moist enough to continue healing.
An infection may require antibiotics or other medications to allow the wound to heal.
When to see a doctor
While some discharge and oozing from a wound are usual, changes in the discharge should always be reported to a doctor. Anyone who inspects their wound and notices any signs of purulent discharge should contact a doctor, 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 for purulent drainage is good.
Continually monitoring a wound, during the healing process, is important. Reporting any changes in discharge can help doctors identify and treat wounds that may be infected.
Infections that are left untreated or go too long without medical treatment may lead to more serious risks and health complications.