Surgical wound care - open

Alternate Names

Surgical incision care; Open wound care

What to Expect at Home

An incision is a "cut" through the skin that is made during surgery. It also called a "surgical wound." Some incisions are small, and others are very long. The size of the incision will depend on the kind of surgery you had.

Do not wear tight clothing that rubs against the incision while it is healing.

Sometimes, a surgical wound will break open (wound dehiscence). This may happen along the entire cut or just part of it. Your doctor may decide not to close it again with sutures, or stitches.

If your doctor does not close your wound again with sutures, you will need to learn how to care for it at home, since it may take time to heal. The wound will heal from the bottom to the top. The dressings help to soak up any drainage and to keep the skin from closing before the wound underneath fills in.

Proper Handwashing

It is important to clean your hands before you change your dressings. You may use an alcohol-based cleaner like Purell, or you may wash your hands using these steps:

Removing the Old Dressing

Your doctor will tell you how often to change your dressing. Be prepared before starting the dressing change:

Remove the old dressing:

Caring for the Wound

You may use a gauze pad or soft cloth to clean the skin around your wound:

Your doctor may also ask you to irrigate, or wash out, your wound:

Do not put any lotion, cream, or herbal remedies on or around your wound without asking your doctor first.

Putting on the New Dressing

Place the clean dressing on the wound as your health care provider taught you to. You may be using a wet-to-dry dressing.

Clean your hands when you are finished.

Throw away all the old dressings and other used supplies in a waterproof plastic bag. Close it tightly, then double it before putting it in the trash.

Wash any soiled laundry from the dressing change separately from other laundry. Ask your doctor if you need to add bleach to the wash water.

Use a dressing only once. Never reuse it.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor if:

References

Fonder MA, Lazarus GS, Cowan DA, Aronson-Cook B, Kohli AR, Mamelak AJ. Treating the chronic wound: A practical approach to the care of nonhealing wounds and wound care dressings. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2008 Feb;58(2):185-206.


Review Date: 6/6/2012
Reviewed By: Ann Rogers, MD, Associate Professor of Surgery; Director, Penn State Surgical Weight Loss Program, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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