How to Clean Minor Wounds and Prevent Infection
Wound infections and how to prevent them
An infection, whether in a wound or within the body, is an invasion by harmful microorganisms. Basically you have two types of infection: localised and systemic. When you cut your finger and it becomes infected this is a localised infection. If the microorganisms from this cut penetrate deeper and enter into the blood stream, then this could turn into systemic infection and may lead to vital organs being affected. At all costs you want to prevent any localised infection from spreading into the body where the damage could be serious. The most common way to get a local infection is through open wounds. There are various kinds of wound, so have a look at the table below to see the most familiar categories.
Types of wounds that can become infected
a cut type wound from example a knife, glass or any other sharp object. These types of wound can be narrow or deep; straight, ragged or irregular depending on how the injury happened.
a scraping kind of wound often received after a fall or shearing force. These wounds can be very painful as often not only the top layer of skin is removed but underlying tissue as well.
this type of wound can occur due to a sharp object, bite or insect sting
the most common form of burn is due to scalding from steam, hot water and burns from hot objects.
Preventing infection - minor wound care
No matter how insignificant you think a cut, abrasion, puncture or burn is, it's always best to give the wound a quick clean. This attention can make the difference between a wound healing quickly or an infection developing. One of the first things to do before cleaning any wound is to wash your hands.
The UK National Resource for Infection Control (NRIC) has found that the incident of home and community infection has significantly reduced due to the increased awareness of washing hands and using alcohol based rubs along with hand hygiene.
However, according to the UK Health Protection Agency, some serious infections such as Clostridium difficile are on the increase in the community. This shows that hand washing and general good hygiene is still essential. People who have certain conditions also need to take extra care about hand washing and cleaning wounds. This is because some medical ailments make the chances of catching an infection much easier, but healing an infection much more difficult. This is usually due to the circulation of blood not being as efficient, therefore white blood cells from the immune system take much longer to reach the injury site. This could potentially allow harmful microorganisms to take hold. Therefore, be more careful if you suffer from
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Chronic medical conditions such as - kidney or liver disease, cancer or any illness that causes weakness in the immune system
How to clean different kinds of wound
- Wash your hands with soap and/or anti-bacterial cleanser.
- Next, wash the cut with cool or warm water - running water is always best. Depending on how dirty the wound is, you may need to continue cleaning for a few minutes. NHS Patient Guides, recommends cleaning with running water for 10 minutes.
- If needed, use a little pressure to stop bleeding. - a clean piece of cotton cloth or swab is best since they don't have fibres that stick to the wound.
- If the wound is fairly deep or wide, then apply anti-bacterial ointment/lotion to the wound and cover with a plaster or wound dressing. If the wound is not too wide and you are happy it has been cleaned properly you can promote healing by bringing the edges of the wound together and keep them in place by using surgical/Steri strips or equivalent. These kinds of dressings have different names depending on what country you live in.
- A bandage may also be applied if needed.
- Wash your hands with soap and/or anti-bacterial cleanser.
- Use a continuous stream of water and pour this into the wound - a shower head or similar is ideal.
- Continue pouring water in for about 5 - 10 minutes. With puncture wounds, the longer the better. Some experts also state that washing with mild soap also helps, but the choice is yours. I tend to use water only and then an anti-septic ointment or lotion afterwards rather than soap.
- Look for any foreign bodies within the wound but under no circumstances start to dig them out with knives, tweezers or any other instruments. If you have a wood splinter that has not caused a significant wound, then take a clean pair of tweezers and gently remove it. Then clean the area as suggested before.
- If there is an object imbedded in the wound, gently cover it and seek medical advice. Ideally with any puncture wound, it's best to get advice from a doctor or nurse as soon as you can.
- You can clean the area with mild soap and water, but the best way to clean abrasions is to irrigate them.
- Fill a syringe with either tap water or you can use solutions such as Sodium Chloride 0.9% or similar.
- Use a little pressure when using the syringe so that debris is washed out thoroughly from the wound.
- You can also use a clean dressing swab to ‘scrub’ the area. This doesn’t involve any harsh scrubbing, but gently dabbing the area to remove dirt or grit. You have to be careful however as you could cause more damage by ‘scrubbing’ and sometimes the wound will be too painful to do this, especially with a child.
- Cover the area with a dressing and leave this in place for a few days. Dressings that are semi-permeable or act like a ‘second skin’ often work very well with abrasion type wounds.
Note: only carry out this procedure on minor burns where the skin is not broken.
- Ensure your hands are clean.
- Run cool water over the wound or submerse it in cool water if able to for at least 5-10 minutes.
- A clean, cold-soaked towel can also be used to reduce pain.
- Don't use iced water or food packs from the freezer as this will make the burn worse.
- After soaking the wound in cool water, cover the area with a sterile dressing and bandage and leave it to heal.
- Prevent the wound area from receiving pressure or friction.
- Although there are ointments and creams for burns, it's best not to use anything on a burn unless it's a very small area. If unsure, leave alone and let the burn heal itself.
- Blisters should also be left to either burst naturally or dry out. Blisters are the body's way of protecting underlying tissues that have been injured and prevent microorganisms getting in.
Always remember that if you have any doubts about a wound, no matter how small they may be, seek the advice of a professional. It's also better to check with a doctor or nurse to see if they advise getting an anti-tetanus shot as a prevention against this disease.
Survey on infections
Do you think that some bacteria causing infections are getting more resistant to treatments?
Survey on wound cleaning
Do you always clean a wound you sustain?
Wound infections - the signs and symptoms
There are a number of classic signs of infection that usually appear. However, every person is different and indications of infection may be slightly different from person to person.
- The area around the wound tends to be red, often swollen, tender and painful
- the red and swollen stage may last for some time before pus and/or blood is seen coming out of the wound or may be lying just under the surface of the skin. Pus can be various colours ranging from pale to green.
- If you only see a straw/amber coloured like fluid coming out of the wound this is nothing to worry about. This watery substance is serous fluid and is the body's way of cleaning out a wound.
- Often the wound will have an odour. This can range from distinctive to foul.
- People often develop a high temperature and feel achy and sore.
- People can also feel faint and dizzy when they have a wound infection.
- If you have any signs of infection seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
It goes without saying that most wounds heal themselves. Our immune systems are made to cope with invading microorganisms on a regular basis and do an excellent good job. What basic wound care does, is to help the body by trying to prevent as many organisms as possible getting into the body. Wound cleaning and care is basically common sense. If at any time you have an injury that shows something you have not experienced before or anything you are not sure of then get medical advice. Prevention, alertness and common sense are the main ways to stop nasty bugs causing infection.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Helen Murphy Howell