Wounds happen every day. From small bumps and bruises to larger, open wounds. Proper care is essential to healing and preventing infection. If you suffer from a wound, do you know how to care for it properly? Odds are there are steps you could be taking to reduce swelling, pain, and infection.
This article will cover basic wound care and how to identify an infected wound or cut. We will identify wounds and their basic classifications as well as covering supplies you should have on hand in the event of an injury.
What Classifies A Wound?
A wound can mean a few different things. However, for the purposes of this article, we are talking about a physical wound. By definition, a wound is an injury to the body from trauma, force, cuts or surgery that results in breaking of the skin (or other membranes) and damage to underlying tissue.
Wounds can be as small as a paper cut on the tip of your finger or as large as cuts or gashes that extend the length of an entire limb or more.
Most of the time, though not always, a wound will remain open due to the body trying to patch the area immediately. Wounds can fester, become infected, swell, itch, get irritated and turn colors. They can also be near superficial and result in little to no reaction at all.
Sub-dermal wounds, such as bruises, are injuries that do not result in breaking the skin but do cause damage to underlying tissue. Some form of pain is associated with the wound, either during wound creation or the healing process.
Pain can vary from mild discomfort to excruciating. Size, location and amount of damage will all contribute to pain levels.
Often, external situations will either alleviate pain or contribute to it. Hot water on an open wound, for example, will make the pain worse, to include a stinging sensation or throbbing. Ice, on the other hand, can reduce pain as the cold numbs the nerves in the applied area. Pain management is a part of treating a wound. However, it is not within the major scope of this article. If pain becomes unbearable or does not subside you should seek medical attention for proper care.
You can apply heating pads or ice packs to the pain areas or take over the counter medications to reduce the pain levels.
What Supplies Should You Have On Hand?
The time to prepare for wound care is before having a wound. Being properly prepared will aid in pain management, time management, and the prevention of infection or worsening of the symptoms.
If at any time, you feel the wound is beyond your control, you should seek immediate medical assistance. Calling a doctor, driving to the emergency room or calling for an EMT should take priority over self-administered treatments.
For more minor injuries and wounds, self-treatment may be sufficient.
There are general supplies you should make sure to have on hand at all times. You can buy prepackaged first aid kits, or you can build your own. You should have one within easy reach of where ever you are located.
The most common areas to store a first aid kit are in the home, in the office and the car. Because injuries and wounds can happen at any time, it is better to be close to immediate wound care supplies than to have to spend time hunting for the equipment.
All first aid items should be kept in the same location. A bathroom or bedroom or the trunk of the car are common areas. When possible immediate supplies should be kept together for easy access and transportation to the wounded victim.
The main items you should have on hand are:
- Clean, sterile gauze. This can be in rolls or individually wrapped pads.
- Alcohol for sterilization. You should have antiseptic wipes that are alcohol based on cleaning and sterilizing the wound area and tools.
- Hydrogen Peroxide. This will help to debride the wound and clean the area to be treated.
- Bandages. Self-stick bandages that are new, individually wrapped are essential for covering the wound. You should have a variety of sizes to choose from.
- Iodine. Iodine is used to keep the area clean and kill any surface bacteria before it can enter the wound.
- Cotton Swabs or balls. These will help apply the cleaners, ointments, and chemicals during treatment.
- Tweezers. A pair of tweezers will help in many ways, including debridement, removal of torn tissue or using other tools.
- Medical scissors. Small medical scissors will help you cut tape, bandages, and gauze to size.
- Medical tape. Medical tape is used to affix bandages or wraps or to hold gauze in place during treatment.
- Antibiotic ointments. Ointments and solutions should be applied prior to bandaging the wound to aid in healing and infection prevention.
- Clean, dry cloths. If the wound is bleeding, you should use a clean, dry cloth to apply pressure to the wound.
There are other products you can have on hand as well, such as creams, pads, cups, bottled water, etc. However, the basic list above will help you treat wounds as soon as they occur.
Treatment of Wounds
When a wound does occur, there are several steps that must be taken in order to care for them properly. If at any time you are in doubt as to a treatment procedure, the extent of the injury or if you are ever uncomfortable you should seek immediate medical assistance.
Some wounds will require more treatment than others. This will depend on the cause of the injury, the size and location of the wound, if the infection is suspected, if there is bleeding or if there is pain that can’t be controlled.
The first step is to assess the wound. Find the location and determine if the wound can be treated as if emergency medical help is required. If it is exposed or broken bone, for example, a gauze pad and bandage aren’t going to help. You should call for an ambulance to assist in immediate care as well as transportation of the victim to prevent further injury.
Second, assuming emergency care is not needed, you should clean the wound. Clean, fresh water should be used to wash the wound area to wash away any blood as well as get a better view of the actual wound. Some wounds can bleed a lot and be quite minor. Removing the blood to see the wound will determine the next course of action.
Once the wound has been flushed with clean water, you should attempt to stop the bleeding. Using a clean, dry cloth, apply direct and steady pressure to the wound. You don’t want to press so hard to cause pain or prevent circulation.
One to five minutes should be plenty to stop any bleeding from an open wound. If bleeding persists after five minutes, the wound is beyond the abilities of your first aid kit and medical assistance should be called immediately.
Once the bleeding stops, you need to determine if the wound needs to be debrided. Removal of any foreign items such as dirt, gravel, glass, etc. should be done with the utmost care. Use sterile tweezers wiped with an alcohol pad to carefully remove any debris.
You should also wipe the wound area with the alcohol pad before debridement. This may cause a stinging sensation or mild pain to the affected area. If the wound is large or there is a lot of debris, use hydrogen peroxide to help remove the items by bubbling them out towards the surface.
You should never tear the skin or tissue around the wound. If you cannot remove the debris, seek the help of a medical professional.
After the wound is cleaned and free of debris, and as long as the bleeding has stopped, pat the area dry with a clean cloth and apply antibiotic ointment. If the wound area is large, do not put the ointment inside the wound. Instead, rub the cream around the edge and on the torn tissue edges. This will help prevent an infected cut.
Wound healing can vary from a few days to a few weeks, and sometimes more. Care should be taken to clean and reapply ointment after changing dressings.
Once the ointment has been applied, wrap the wound in gauze (if it is larger) and secure with medical tape. If the wound is small, such as a cut on a finger, you can skip the gauze and use a clean, sterile bandage instead. Ensure the sterile pad of the bandage covers the wound and secure the adhesive to hold the bandage in place to ensure wound healing.
If you suspect an infection or notice that swelling and redness occur after the initial dressing, you should seek a doctor. Sepsis, shock or even gangrene can develop causing serious injury or even death.
(You may also be interested in Treating and Caring for Burns.)