What is an Exudate?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Exudate is fluid which leaks out of damaged tissues. It can be the result of trauma, inflammation, or an underlying disease process which compromises the tissue. A classic example of exudate is pus, found in some types of wounds as they heal. Depending on the quantity and quality of the fluid, exudate can help or hinder healing, and sometimes characteristics of expressed fluids reveal information about the progress of the healing. Microscopic examination can reveal more about what is inside the fluid, which can help a doctor make decisions about treatment recommendations.

Exudate can happen inside the body in the form of fluid filling the space around the lungs.
Exudate can happen inside the body in the form of fluid filling the space around the lungs.

Water is one of the major constituents of exudate, which should come as no surprise, since it makes up a large part of the body. The fluid also contains proteins from blood and tissue cells, and can include bacteria, lymph, and other materials as well. Some exudate weeps slowly out of damaged tissues, accumulating gradually over time, while in other cases, the fluid may seep very rapidly, building up in and around a wound.

Pus is an example of an exudate.
Pus is an example of an exudate.

While it may be unsightly, fluid which weeps from damaged cells can be a good thing. It often carries infectious and dead material out of the body so that they cannot continue to contribute to inflammatory processes, providing a method of flushing the body. It can also keep a wound moist, which can contribute to healing with some types of wounds, and create a filmy barrier which protects a wound from the outside. If wounds become too dry, sometimes the healing process is disrupted, and the area can be at risk of infection from microbes which take advantage of cracks in dried skin.

X-rays may be taken to diagnose pleural effusion.
X-rays may be taken to diagnose pleural effusion.

People often notice small amounts of exudate on bandages when they change them. The slow seepage indicates that healing is taking place under the bandage, but that inflammation is still occurring. If the exudate has a strong odor, is copious, or acquires a strange color, it may be a sign that infection has set in and more medical attention is needed to address the wound.

Pus, which is found in a variety of skin lesions, is a common type of exudate.
Pus, which is found in a variety of skin lesions, is a common type of exudate.

Exudate can also happen inside the body. Pleural effusion, in which the space around the lungs becomes filled with fluid, can be caused by exudate. Likewise, leaking fluids can lead to edema. In these cases, the body cannot express the leaking fluid as quickly as it is generated, and it creates medical complications. Treatment for buildups of fluid vary, depending on where in the body they are, the cause of the buildup, and the patient's general health.

Dry skin can be at risk of infection from microbes which take advantage of cracks in skin.
Dry skin can be at risk of infection from microbes which take advantage of cracks in skin.
The healing process may be disrupted in wounds that become too dry.
The healing process may be disrupted in wounds that become too dry.
Microscopic examination can reveal more about what is inside exudate, which can help a doctor make decisions about treatment recommendations.
Microscopic examination can reveal more about what is inside exudate, which can help a doctor make decisions about treatment recommendations.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

Perdido

I had a lot of exudate seeping from my wounded arm when I got cut by a piece of farm equipment. The tear in my flesh was pretty deep, so it took awhile to heal.

I kept a bandage on it, but every time I removed it to replace it, I saw how juicy and soft the skin was. It made me think that maybe it needed to air out, but I asked my doctor and he told me that this type of moisture was a good thing.

The exudate helped my wound heal faster. I’m glad I didn’t go by my own judgment and remove the bandage.

cloudel

I often pop pimples, even though I know it’s not a good thing to do. Once they turn white, I know that applying pressure will cause the pus to shoot out. It is followed by a slow leaking exudate.

The bigger the bump, the more exudate flows. Since the pimples are on my face, I try to soak up the exudate with a tissue until it finally stops, because I don’t want to go to work oozing transparent yellowish juice.

Sometimes, even after the exudate has stopped flowing, a small amount will still leak out periodically. Once a crust forms, it holds in the juices. The exudate and the crust both are unattractive, but so is a big pimple.

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