Caring for an Infected Wound
The body is an amazing network of functions, activities, and defense systems. In ideal conditions, everything runs smoothly; and if any dangerous bacteria or viruses try to invade, the immune system can do its job and block the advancing enemy. However, ideal conditions are often compromised by:
- Surgery: deep incisions can sometimes trap bacteria inside the body, or leave an area susceptible to infection.
- Accidents: construction, vehicular, kitchen, or other job related injuries can leave open wounds.
- Crime: physical assault, severe negligence, or other criminal activities often result in an injury.
- Illness: statistics show that over 6 million Americans suffer from chronic wounds due to health conditions such as diabetes or obesity; this significantly raises the risk of wound infection.
When a wound is inflicted on the body and it becomes apparent that infection has set in, properly caring for the wound is very important. If neglected, infection can spread throughout the body eventually resulting in sepsis.
How Infection Happens
When the first line of defense is damaged, it leaves an open door for microbes to enter; this first line of defense is our skin. If there is a breach in our skin’s defensive barrier, the blood soon begins to clot, not only to prevent excessive bleeding, but the clot also works as a temporary wall to block dangerous microbes just like the skin does.
Even so, pathogenic organisms can still manage to find their way into the wound and begin to attack the tissue. This causes swelling, heated redness, and discomfort ranging from minor to severe. Individuals with poor circulation or poor hygiene are at a greater risk for developing infection, and should take caring for wounds much more seriously.
How to Care for a Wound
One of the most important ways to prevent the infection of a wound is simply by keeping it clean and dry. If the wound is not serious, and the bleeding has stopped within 10-15 minutes of applying pressure, you should be able to care for the wound from home.
- Wash the area thoroughly with cool running water.
- Use soap around (but not in) the wounded tissue.
- Sanitized tweezers may be used to remove dirt or other foreign objects.
- Pat the wound dry with a clean absorbent pad, apply an antibiotic ointment if desired, and cover with a bandage.
- Replace bandage daily or more often if it becomes dirty or wet.
When to Visit the Doctor/Urgent Care
If you begin to notice that your wound is not healing as it should, or if it was too serious to handle at home to begin with (jagged edges, excessive dirt/debris, too deep, a lengthy facial cut, or the bleeding isn’t letting up), it may be time to visit a medical facility.
Urgent Care/Emergency facilities can do what a family doctor can do, except without a scheduled appointment. Minor to concerning wound infections should be brought to the attention of medical professionals in order to prevent further spreading of the infection. Seek help if you are experiencing:
- A lot of dirt or debris in the wound
- A wound with irregular jagged edges
- A cut large enough to need stitches
- A deep cut or puncture wound without having a previous tetanus shot
- Thick pale-colored oozing from the wound
- Noticeable swelling and reddening of the wound
- Failure of the wound to bond back together after a few days
When to Head to the ER
Some severe wounds require immediate attention at the emergency room, where medical personnel are prepared to handle the worst cases of injury and advanced infection. Go directly to the ER for example if you have a:
- Deep gaping wound
- Deep puncture wound
- Foreign object lodged in the wound
- Severe infection of the wound that is causing red streaks to travel into surrounding areas
- Infection that is causing the area tissue to die
Take Wound Infection Care Seriously
Skin infections are nothing to play around with, and can advance into life-threatening scenarios if not cared for properly. Evaluating the type and severity of the wound is the first step to take, and then you are ready to do whatever is necessary in order to see it heal safely and properly.
If you have any questions or concerns about how to care for an infected wound, or would like to know more about the wound-care services available, contact your local hospital.