We have all done it. That split second when you get distracted as you’re chopping up carrots or celery, and whoops!—cut your finger. Or you’re enjoying a weekend walk on the beach and slice your foot on a sharp shell. No matter how it happens, at some point most of us will have to take care of a wound.
For most healthy people, that’s not a big deal. Wounds generally are easy to treat and will typically heal completely within four weeks. Regardless of where the wound is, the initial treatment is the same: clean it thoroughly. Nothing works as well as good old soap and water. You do not need hydrogen peroxide, iodine, bleach or any of the thousands of other home remedies out there. After thoroughly washing the wound, gently pat it dry and apply gentle prolonged pressure to stop minor bleeding. If bleeding persists or is gushing/pulsating, seek medical care immediately.
So now what? My grandmother was a wise woman who, despite no formal education, had abundant common sense. She always said, “Just leave it open to air and dry, it will be fine.” Well Nana, I hate to say it but on this one point, you were wrong!
Studies have found that wounds heal better when they are kept moist and covered and not left open to air. Simple petroleum jelly and a Band-Aid may suffice for a clean wound that is superficial such as a scrape or abrasion or a skinned knee. It’s fine to use a topical antibiotic, but the only one I recommend is plain Bacitracin. (Some patients I see seem to experience skin irritation using Neosporin or the Triple antibiotic preparations.) Keep it simple. Keep a tube of Bacitracin in your medicine cabinet or first aid kit. Put a small dot of it on a Band-Aid and cover the wound. Change the dressing at least once every day.
Infection Warning Signs
Most wounds heal within four weeks, but some wounds get infected, and need medical treatment. Signs of an infection include:
- increased redness or warmth in the skin around the wound
- any yellow fluid or crust in or around a wound
- foul odor
- increase in drainage
- any fever over 100.5 ⁰F or chills, or redness streaking upward from a wound following the lines of blood vessels toward the heart means you need to see your doctor or go to the emergency room.
If you are concerned, seek medical attention. Infections can escalate quickly. It’s better to see your doctor for a simple solution rather than end up in the ER needing intravenous antibiotics.
People with certain medical conditions such as diabetes, poor circulation, decreased immune system function due to medications or chemo, and some other chronic medical problems are prone to having wounds that are difficult to heal. If you have one of these conditions and you get a wound, you should see your doctor at the first sign of delayed healing or infection. Diabetics especially, must take any wound or trauma to the feet very seriously because limb threatening infection is far more common in this population. If you are the least bit concerned or worried, call your doctor.
Most wounds we sustain in our daily routines are simple and will heal in a timely fashion. Make sure your tetanus shots are up to date and if you are not sure, get a booster. Remember the basics of wound care: keep it clean, keep it moist and keep it covered. If you have a complicated wound that has not healed in four weeks, or you have other medical conditions like diabetes or peripheral vascular disease, call us at the Wound Management & Hyperbaric Medicine Program at Roper Hospital and we will be happy to help you achieve complete healing. And for the record, that was just about the only thing my Nana ever got wrong!