American Journal of Clinical Dermatology

, Volume 3, Issue 6, pp 389–400

Pustular Skin Disorders

Diagnosis and Treatment
Therapy in Practice

DOI: 10.2165/00128071-200203060-00003

Cite this article as:
Mengesha, Y.M. & Bennett, M.L. Am J Clin Dermatol (2002) 3: 389. doi:10.2165/00128071-200203060-00003


The differential diagnosis for pustular skin disorders is extensive. The distribution of the lesions and the age of the patient are characteristics that may provide strong clues to the etiology of cutaneous pustular eruptions.

In adults, generalized pustular dermatoses include pustular psoriasis, Reiter’s disease and subcorneal pustular dermatosis. Medications can cause generalized pustular eruptions, such as in the case of acute generalized exanthematous pustulosis; or more localized reactions, such as acneiform drug eruptions, which usually involve the face, chest and back. Localized pustular eruptions are seen on the hands and feet in adults with pustulosis palmaris et plantaris and acrodermatitis continua (both of which may be variants of psoriasis); on the face in patients with acne vulgaris, rosacea, and perioral dermatitis; and on the trunk and/or extremities in patients with folliculitis. A seperate condition known as eosinophilic folliculitis occurs in individuals with advanced human immunodeficiency disease. Severely pruritic, sterile, eosinophilic pustules are found on the chest, proximal extremities, head and neck. Elevated serum immunoglobulin E and eosinophilia are often concurrently found.

In neonates, it is especially important to make the correct diagnosis with respect to pustular skin disorders, since pustules can be a manifestation of sepsis or other serious infectious diseases. Generalized pustular eruptions in neonates include erythema toxicum neonatorum and transient neonatal pustular melanosis, both of which are non-infectious. Pustules are seen in infants with congenital cutaneous candidiasis, which may or may not involve disseminated disease. Ofuji’s syndrome is an uncommon generalized pustular dermatosis of infancy with associated eosinophilia. As in adults, neonates and infants may develop acne or scabies infestations.

In this article, we review the most common pustular dermatoses and offer a systematic approach to making a diagnosis. We also report the most up-to-date information on the treatment of these various cutaneous pustular conditions.

Copyright information

© Adis International Limited 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of DermatologyWake Forest University School of MedicineWinston-SalemUSA