Cuts and scrapes are a normal part of life. And while time is said to heal all wounds, infected wounds will need a little extra care. But how exactly does a wound get infected? Your skin is the largest organ in your body and it acts as a protective barrier, keeping out nasty germs and pathogens. But when it breaks, whether it’s from something as minor as a scrape on your knee or as serious as a surgical wound, you can be exposed to infection by germs. This can happen due to a host of reasons – say, the wound has become contaminated, foreign particles are trapped in it, the wound is large or deep, your immunity is low etc. Signs of infection can include fever, chills, pus, and redness. The wound may also smell bad, be hot to the touch, and painful.1
Infected wounds need to be taken seriously. An infection may start out small but if it’s not dealt with properly, it can cause tissue death, spread to other parts of your body like your blood or your bones, and even affect major organs like the heart and the brain. Whatever you do at home can only be supplementary treatment to what your doctor advises.
If a wound has become infected, here’s what you need to do:
1. Complete Your Course Of Antibiotics
No two ways about it – if a wound is infected, you need to get medical attention. Antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat an infected wound, though in some cases surgery may also be required.2 Depending on the wound and the severity of the infection, your doctor may prescribe topical or oral antibiotics. And if the infection is very serious the antibiotic may be delivered intravenously first.3 In some cases, wounds are infected by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which can resist common antibiotics and may require specific medicines. So your doctor may also test the pus coming from your wound to determine which medicine to use.
Do follow your doctor’s instructions and complete your course of antibiotics even if you get better before the course gets over. If the treatment is stopped too soon, all the bacteria may not be eliminated and you may get re-infected.4
2. Clean And Dress The Wound Regularly
If your wound is infected, you will need to clean and dress it regularly. Your doctor will tell you how frequently you need to change your dressing as well as what kind of dressing would be suitable for you. A healthcare professional may change your dressing for you but, in some cases, you may also be able to handle it at home.
Not all dressings are created equal. For instance, transparent film dressings or hydrocolloid dressings are not recommended for infected wounds. So, stick to the dressing your doctor recommends.5
If you have been asked to dress the wound at home, follow these steps:
- First, make sure that your hands are clean. It even makes sense to use a new pair of non-sterile gloves when you change your dressing.
- Then, remove your old dressing and packing. If the dressing sticks, wetting it with warm water will help it come off easily.
- Clean the wound with soap and warm water and using a clean washcloth, gently pat dry.
- Now, you can apply a new dressing.
- Your doctor may advise you to soak the dressing and packing tape in saline before you use it to help with disinfection.
- Make sure you wash your hands and dispose of the old dressing safely after you’re done.6
3. Use Antibacterial Honey And Neem
Ayurveda has traditionally used natural antiseptic remedies like honey and neem for treating infected wounds. As one case study showed, treating a chronic wound infected by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria with these was found to be quite effective. When the wound was washed with a neem bark decoction and cleaned with sterile swabs in the mornings before the topical application of honey, it healed in 35 days.7
While honey, neem, and turmeric are known for their antibacterial properties and are certainly effective, do take care to consult with your doctor before applying natural or herbal remedies to an open infected wound.
4. Apply A Healing Turmeric Paste
Turmeric is commonly used in Southeast Asia to promote wound healing. How does it work? Curcumin, a compound present in turmeric, can speed up healing as it increases the synthesis of collagen, a protein present in your skin and connective tissues which gives them structure. It also improves cellular proliferation. This means improved skin growth, increased tensile strength, and better wound contraction.8
But that’s not all. Studies have also shown that turmeric is effective against many pathogens that may infect you. 9 So try this simple traditional remedy – make a paste of turmeric powder and water and apply it to the wound.10 And because we can’t stress this enough, clear this remedy with your doctor before trying it on your open wound.
5. Have Garlic To Retard Infection
Garlic contains a beneficial compound known as alliin. When you crush garlic, this compound converts into the sulfur-containing allicin, which has strong antimicrobial properties. One study found that when people suffering from burn wounds had a couple of crushed garlic cloves mixed in with yogurt along with their lunch, it delayed the development of infection and reduced the need for antibiotics. So using the pungent garlic to spice your meals may work as a supplementary herbal medicine in tackling wound infections.11
6. Fuel The Healing Process With The Right Nutrients
Having a healthy diet is important for wound healing. Include foods from all the food groups – grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, poultry and lean meat – to bolster your body. Specifically, you might need to:
- Increase the calories that you take in since wound healing requires energy.
- Have sufficient protein since it helps make new tissue. Think meats, beans, nuts, and dairy products.
- Drink plenty of fluids since healing can be hampered if your skin becomes dry.
- Have sufficient vitamin C since it helps synthesize collagen. Try noshing on green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits to up your intake of vitamin C.12 13 14
7. Quit Smoking: It Slows Down Healing
Smoking can make your blood vessels smaller. This makes it difficult for them to carry healing factors, nutrients, and oxygen to the wound – all of which are important for healing. Cigarette smoke also contains toxins like carbon monoxide, nicotine, and hydrogen cyanide which hamper wound healing. In fact, if you’re planning to have surgery it’s important to stop smoking at least 3 days before the procedure so that you have healthy oxygen levels in your blood.15 16
|↑1||Surgical wound infection – treatment. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑2||Cellulitis. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑3||WOUND INFECTION. The Health Media.|
|↑4||Surgical wound infection – treatment. University Of Florida.|
|↑5||CCHCS Care Guide: Wound and Skin Ulcer Management. California Correctional Health Care Services.|
|↑6||Wet-to-dry dressing changes. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑7||Dudhamal, Tukaram S., S. K. Gupta, and C. Bhuyan. “Role of honey (Madhu) in the management of wounds (Dushta Vrana).” International journal of Ayurveda research 1, no. 4 (2010): 271.|
|↑8||Panchatcharam, Manikandan, Sumitra Miriyala, Vinaya Subramani Gayathri, and Lonchin Suguna. “Curcumin improves wound healing by modulating collagen and decreasing reactive oxygen species.” Molecular and cellular biochemistry 290, no. 1 (2006): 87-96.|
|↑9||Singh, Rambir, Ramesh Chandra, Mridula Bose, and Pratibha Mehta Luthra. “Antibacterial activity of Curcuma longa rhizome extract on pathogenic bacteria.” Current Science (2002): 737-740.|
|↑10||Ajmera, Ananta. The Ayurveda Way: 108 Practices from the World’s Oldest Healing System for Better Sleep, Less Stress, Optimal Digestion, and More. Storey Publishing, 2017.|
|↑11||Londhe, V. P. “Role of garlic (allium sativum) in various diseases-an overview.” Journal of pharmaceutical research & opinion 1, no. 4 (2014).|
|↑12||Moores, Jane. “Vitamin C: a wound healing perspective.” British journal of community nursing 18 (2013).|
|↑13, ↑15||Smoking and Wound Healing: A Guide for Surgical and Burn Patients. University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority.|
|↑14||Nutrition and Wound Healing. Queensland Government.|
|↑16||Silverstein, P. Smoking and wound healing. Am J Med. 1992; 93: 22S–24S|