What is a pustule?
The pustules often look like white bumps. The body’s natural immune response to fighting infection can cause redness and swelling around these spots. Pustules can vary in size, sometimes reaching large sizes.
The pus inside a pustule is a combination of sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria that get trapped and accumulate in the pores under the skin, causing an infection. Pustules develop on many parts of the body, depending on the cause.
Most people often find them on their:
- Upper chest
People with acne, such as boys and girls with acne during adolescence, develop pustules due to hormonal imbalances and overproduction of sebum. But acne-pustules appear in people of any age. Other conditions and diseases, such as smallpox, chickenpox, and certain types of psoriasis and rosacea, can also cause pustules to form.
How to treat pustules
Dermatologists develop a treatment plan based on their diagnosis, other medications you may be taking, possible drug interactions, and your personal and family medical history. Pustules are diagnosed based on the appearance of the pimples and are classified according to their size and extent.
Acne is classified as mild, moderate, or severe, which determines the preferred approach to acne treatment. Pustules resulting from other diseases, such as chickenpox and smallpox, require treatment of the underlying disease.
Doctors recommend or prescribe various oral and topical medications to treat pustules. In more severe cases, they consider more invasive treatments. Some are over-the-counter, while others require prescriptions.
Treatment of pustules
- Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid: These are key ingredients in many over-the-counter topical creams. Typically, creams contain one ingredient or the other: benzoyl peroxide to kill bacteria, or salicylic acid to stimulate cell growth. Dermatologists sometimes recommend using both types of creams.
Topical retinoids: These prescription treatments should be used under the guidance of a dermatologist to avoid side effects such as dry skin, flaking, and sensitivity to sunlight. Retinoids are made from vitamin A and can help unclog pores.
Local antibiotics: They target bacterial infections, but because antibiotics don’t clear pores, dermatologists often prescribe them along with other treatments like benzoyl peroxide or retinoids.
Oral antibiotics: Antibiotics kill bacteria that cause infections under the skin, reduce inflammation and redness, and allow pores to clear. Antibiotics usually clear the skin within four weeks, although treatment can take months.
Birth control pills: Estrogen reduces the action of androgens, hormones that increase sebum production. Birth control pills are an effective remedy for women who suffer from acne during their menstrual cycle or have flare-ups in the early stages of menopause.
Oral isotretinoin: It’s only by prescription and doctors use it for severe acne. Pregnant women should avoid this medication.
If topical or oral medications have not cleared up the pustules, a dermatologist may recommend other medical treatments. These include corticosteroid injections, chemical peels, extraction procedures, and laser and light therapy. Doctors view these treatments as a last resort.
If the pustules get worse, talk to your doctor. If you experience fever, nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting, seek medical attention immediately.
Can pustules be prevented?
There is no reliable way to prevent pustules, as is the case with other forms of acne. However, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk of getting them.
Prevention tips often include:
- Wash your face with mild, alcohol-free cleansers and warm water.
- Choose non-comedogenic skin care products.
- Use a moisturizer and broad spectrum sunscreen to protect your skin.
- Wash pillowcases and sheets frequently
- Maintain overall health through rest, fluids, and a balanced diet.
Talk to your dermatologist to create a customized skin care plan for you. Your doctor can also help with any health and general wellness concerns you have and discuss your specific needs.
Before making health care decisions, seek the advice of a healthcare professional.
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