What are pustules?
Pustules are small, pus-filled sores located at the surface of the skin. They are most commonly seen in acne, although they can be a sign of any infection involving the skin. Pustules appear on the skin as small, raised, reddened areas that typically have a whitish center. They may or may not be painful or tender to the touch. Pustules most commonly occur on the face, chest and shoulders and in areas of increased sweating.
Pus is caused by the breakdown of inflammatory cells produced by the body to fight infection. Typically, pus forms during the course of a bacterial infection. Although neutrophils (type of immune system cell) initially engulf and kill bacteria, they themselves are eventually broken down and become a major constituent of pus. All types of bacteria that cause disease are capable of producing infections that lead to pus.
In some cases, conditions other than bacterial infections can produce skin pimples or bumps that have the appearance of pustules. These include chickenpox, yeast infections, and herpesvirus infections such as cold sores or genital herpes.
The formation of pustules may be a symptom of a bacterial infection, which may be a serious condition. Seek prompt medical care if you have pustules that are persistent or recurrent or that cause you concern.
What other symptoms might occur with pustules?
Pustules can be caused by bacterial infections and may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.
Other symptoms that may occur along with pustules
Pustules may be accompanied by symptoms localized to the skin or related to other body systems including:
Fever and chills
Fever not associated with flu symptoms
Localized redness, warmth or swelling
Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition
In some cases, pustules may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have pustule formation along with other serious symptoms including:
What causes pustules?
Pustules are caused by the accumulation of pus at the surface of the skin. Although pus formation typically indicates a bacterial infection, pustules are most commonly seen in acne, which is caused by the clogging of pores in the skin and the subsequent accumulation of oil and bacteria.
Common causes of pustules
Pustules may be caused by infections or other common conditions including:
Candidiasis (yeast infection)
Folliculitis (inflammation and infection of hair follicles)
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease (mild, contagious viral disease, usually seen in children, that typically affects the skin of the hands and feet and membranes inside the mouth)
Pustular psoriasis (chronic skin disease characterized by eruption of pustules and areas of scaly, itchy skin)
Pustules are generally a harmless symptom that do not produce long-term complications. However, in some circumstances, pustule formation may accompany a serious bacterial infection that has the potential to spread to other organs via the bloodstream. Complications of such bacterial infections include:
Endocarditis (inflammation of the interior lining of the heart and heart valves)
Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)
Osteomyelitis (bone infection)
Sepsis (life-threatening bacterial blood infection)
Spread of infection
Tissue damage or destruction