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Everything You Need to Know About Pus

When it comes to pus, this old Latin adage pretty much sums it up: ubi pus, ibi evacua. In other words, “where there’s pus, evacuate.”

Ah, pus! If you’ve ever popped a whitehead or had a cut that appeared to be oozing something greenish in color, you’ve seen pus. Gross, right?

Believe it or not, pus is actually your body’s way of fighting an infection. It’s made up of a special type of white blood cells called neutrophils, which attack and kill harmful bacteria. So as disgusting as it looks, it would be kind of hard for your body to heal without it.

Here’s everything you ever wanted to know (and some things you probably didn’t) about pus.

How To Recognize It

Pus ranges in consistency from school glue to a thicker, paste-like consistency. It can be white, whitish-yellow, yellow, yellowish-brown, or green in color.

Why All The Pus?

What goes down when your body detects an infection?

Your immune system snaps into action. White blood cells called macrophages sound the alarm, triggering cytokines, a type of cell-signalling protein molecule.

Other white blood cells, known as neutrophils, have the unique task of fighting potentially harmful bacteria and fungi. They are released into the bloodstream, en route to the site of the infection.

Some scientists believe that neutrophils reach their target in under an hour. On the job, hundreds of thousands of neutrophils die. Dead neutrophils are actually what you’re seeing when you see pus. They’re replaced as your immune system kicks into overdrive to kill off all the bacteria.

More neutrophils leads to — you guessed it — more pus.

I’ve Got Pus. Now What?

There’s bad news and good news. The bad news? You’ve got an infection. The good news? Your body is totally on it.

What you do next depends on where the pus is and what’s happening at the site of inflammation.

Pimples: Don’t Pop ‘Em

With small pimples, your body can often take care of the drainage on its own. Apply a hot washcloth to open your pores and coax the pus out without squeezing or pinching your skin. After the pus has been, ahem, expelled, use an over-the-counter antibacterial acne cream to make sure that no additional bacteria gets in.

Large, swollen and painful pimples are a different story. Do not try to drain the pus yourself by popping or picking at it, as this usually makes things worse. If you get these types of pimples often enough to feel like they’re ruining your life, see a doctor.

The Low Down On Wounds

When it comes to wounds, exposed pus can infect other people and other parts of your own body that they come into contact with.

For most people, this goes without saying, but you should wash your hands thoroughly after treating a wound, on yourself or someone else. And always keep open wounds covered with bandages so that your unsightly pus doesn’t get everywhere.

If the wound has a lot of pus and looks red and feels hot or hard, get yourself to an emergency room. In most cases, a doctor will prescribe a round of antibiotics which can clear things up pretty quickly.

Pus: Now You See It, Now You Don’t

Your body also produces pus that you can’t see. Ear infections can release pus in the ear canal. Abscesses of pus in the organs — disgusting, we know — may be signs of a more serious health problem. And seeing pus in your urine? Hello, bladder infection!

In all of these situations, waiting things out isn’t the brightest idea. Yes, pus is generally a sign that your body is fighting whatever it is you have in the best way it knows how, but seeing a doctor is the only way to make sure your body has the problem under control.

[Image via Getty]

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