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Pustules

Pustules are small, inflamed, pus-filled, blister-like sores (lesions) on the skin surface.

Considerations

Pustules are common in acne and folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicle). They may occur anywhere on the body, but are most commonly seen in these areas:

  • Back
  • Face
  • Over the breastbone
  • Shoulders
  • Sweaty areas, such as the groin or armpit

Pustules may be a sign of an infection. They should be checked by a health care provider and may need to be tested (cultured) for bacteria or fungus.

References

Habif TP. Principles of diagnosis and anatomy. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 1.

Marks JG, Miller JJ. Pustules. In: Marks JG, Miller JJ, eds. Lookingbill and Marks' Principles of Dermatology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 12.

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  • Pustules - superficial on the arm - illustration

    An infection of the topmost layers of the skin, especially one caused by staphylococci, may produce pustules, which look like small blisters containing a thick, yellowish material.

    Pustules - superficial on the arm

    illustration

  • Acne - close-up of pustular lesions - illustration

    Acne lesions frequently contain pus. This close-up photograph shows small acne pustules with surrounding inflammation (erythema).

    Acne - close-up of pustular lesions

    illustration

  • Acne - cystic on the face - illustration

    The face is the most common location of acne. Here, there are 4 to 6 millimeter red (erythematous) pustules, some with bridging scars and fistulous tract formation (connecting passages). Severe acne may have a profound psychological impact and may cause scarring. Effective treatments are available for this type of acne.

    Acne - cystic on the face

    illustration

  • Dermatitis - pustular contact - illustration

    This is a close-up of a dermatitis reaction. It consists of a large, red (erythematous) lesion (plaque) with numerous small pus-filled areas (pustules).

    Dermatitis - pustular contact

    illustration

  • Pustules - superficial on the arm - illustration

    An infection of the topmost layers of the skin, especially one caused by staphylococci, may produce pustules, which look like small blisters containing a thick, yellowish material.

    Pustules - superficial on the arm

    illustration

  • Acne - close-up of pustular lesions - illustration

    Acne lesions frequently contain pus. This close-up photograph shows small acne pustules with surrounding inflammation (erythema).

    Acne - close-up of pustular lesions

    illustration

  • Acne - cystic on the face - illustration

    The face is the most common location of acne. Here, there are 4 to 6 millimeter red (erythematous) pustules, some with bridging scars and fistulous tract formation (connecting passages). Severe acne may have a profound psychological impact and may cause scarring. Effective treatments are available for this type of acne.

    Acne - cystic on the face

    illustration

  • Dermatitis - pustular contact - illustration

    This is a close-up of a dermatitis reaction. It consists of a large, red (erythematous) lesion (plaque) with numerous small pus-filled areas (pustules).

    Dermatitis - pustular contact

    illustration

 

Review Date: 10/8/2018

Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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