What Is an Open Wound?
An open wound is an injury involving an external or internal break in body tissue, usually involving the skin. Nearly everyone will experience an open wound at some point in their lives. Most open wounds are minor and can be treated at home.
Falls, accidents with sharp objects or tools, and car accidents are the most common causes of open wounds. In the case of a serious accident, seek immediate medical attention, particularly if there’s a lot of bleeding or if bleeding lasts for more than 20 minutes.
Are There Different Types of Open Wounds?
There are five types of open wounds, which are classified depending on their cause.
An abrasion occurs when the skin rubs or scrapes against a rough or hard surface. Road rash is an example of an abrasion. There’s usually not a lot of bleeding, but the wound needs to be scrubbed and cleaned to avoid infection.
A sharp object, such as a knife, shard of glass, or razor blade, causes an incision. Incisions bleed a lot and quickly. A deep incision can damage tendons, ligaments, and muscles.
A laceration is a deep cut or tearing of the skin. Accidents with knives, tools, and machinery are frequent causes of lacerations. The bleeding is rapid and extensive.
A puncture is a small hole caused by a long, pointy object, such as a nail, needle, or ice pick. Sometimes, a bullet can cause a puncture wound. Punctures may not bleed much, but these wounds can be deep enough to damage internal organs. If you have a puncture wound (even just a small one), visit your doctor to get a tetanus booster shot and prevent infection.
An avulsion is a partial or complete tearing away of skin and tissue. Avulsions usually occur during violent accidents, such as body-crushing accidents, explosions, and gunshots. They bleed heavily and rapidly.
How Are Open Wounds Treated?
For any wound, you should take the following steps:
- Take care of the wound immediately, because even a minor wound can get infected if bacteria are allowed to build up in the wound site. If the wound is minor, you should apply first aid at home.
- If you get a puncture wound or step on a rusty nail, you should see a doctor immediately, because you may need a tetanus shot. If you don't know whether you're due for a tetanus shot, don't take any chances. See a doctor. If the puncture wound is from a human or animal bite, seek emergency medical attention. If the cut is deep or has jagged edges, you may need stitches to close the wound.
- Clean the wound with water. Avoid using soap, hydrogen peroxide, which can irritate the injury. Hold the wound under running water to remove dirt, and use sterile tweezers to remove remaining debris. If you can't get the wound clean, see a doctor, because the dirt could trigger an infection. If there is a large object embedded in the wound, leave it alone and seek emergency help.
- When the wound is clean, apply antibiotic ointment one to three times a day to prevent infection, and cover it in a sterile bandage. Before reapplying ointment, clean the wound. Stop using the ointment if you develop a rash or other reaction. Change the bandage daily, and use soap to clean the skin around the wound.
- If the injury doesn't stop bleeding on its own, use a clean cloth to apply pressure. Maintain the pressure for 20 minutes while elevating the wounded area, if possible. If bleeding continues after 20 minutes of pressure or spurts out of the wound, seek medical help.
- Watch the wound to make sure it is healing. If the wound does not begin to heal or grows red, warm, and/or inflamed, or the skin around it shows red streaks, seek medical care immediately.
When to See a Doctor
Although you can treat some wounds at home, you should see a doctor if:
- an open wound is deeper than 1/2 inch
- the bleeding does not stop with direct pressure
- the bleeding lasts longer than 20 minutes
- the bleeding is the result of a serious accident
HOW TO RECOGNIZE AND TREAT THEM
A wound is infected if:
• it becomes red, swollen, hot, and painful,
• it has pus,
• or if it begins to smell bad.
The infection is spreading to other parts of the body if:
• it causes fever,
• There is a red line above the wound,
• Or if the lymph nodes become swollen and tender. Lymph nodes—often called
‘Glands’ — are little traps for germs that form small lumps under the skin when they get infected.
- Swollen lymph nodes behind the ear are a sign of an infection on the head or scalp, often caused by sores or lice. Or German measles may be the cause.
- Swollen nodes below the ear and on the neck indicate infections of the ear, face, or head (or tuberculosis).
- Swollen nodes below the jaw indicate infections of the teeth or throat.
- Swollen nodes in the armpit indicate an infection of the arm, head, or breast (or sometimes breast cancer).
- Swollen nodes in the groin indicate an infection of the leg, foot, genitals, or anus.
Treatment of infected wounds:
- Put hot compresses over the wound for 20 minutes 4 times a day. Or hold an infected hand or foot in a bucket of hot water.
- Keep the infected part at rest and elevated (raised above the level of the heart).
- If the infection is severe, use an antibiotic like dicloxacillin or clindamycin or an injectable penicillin and also give metronidazole
WARNING: If the wound has a bad smell, if brown or gray liquid oozes out, or if the
skin around it turns black and forms air bubbles or blisters, this may be gangrene. Seek medical help fast.