Symptom Definition

  • Traumatic wound (break in the skin) shows signs of infection
  • Includes sutured wounds, puncture wounds, scrapes
  • Most contaminated wounds become infected 24 to 72 hours after the initial break in the skin.

Signs of Wound Infection

  • Pus or cloudy fluid draining from the wound
  • Pimple or yellow crust formed on the wound (impetigo)
  • Scab has increased in size
  • Increasing redness around the wound (cellulitis)
  • Red streak is spreading from the wound toward the heart (lymphangitis)
  • Wound has become extremely tender
  • Pain or swelling increasing after 48 hours since the wound occurred 
  • Wound has developed blisters or black dead tissue (gangrene and myonecrosis)
  • Lymph node draining that area of skin may become large and tender (lymphadenitis)
  • Onset of widespread bright red sunburn-like rash
  • Onset of fever
  • Wound hasn't healed within 10 days after the injury

See More Appropriate Topic (instead of this one) If


Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If:

  • You feel weak or very sick
  • Bright red, sunburn-like rash on you body
  • Fever occurs
  • Red streak runs from the wound
  • Increasing redness around the wound
  • Severe pain in the wound
  • Face wound with signs of infection
  • Finger wound, where finger has sausage shaped swelling and pain

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If:

  • You think you need to be seen
  • Pus or cloudy drainage from the wound
  • Pimple where a stitch comes through the skin
  • Wound becomes more tender after the 2nd day

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If:

  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home If:

  • Wound doesn't look infected and you don't think you need to be seen


  1. Warm Soaks or Local Heat: If the wound is open, soak it in warm water or put a warm wet cloth on the wound for 20 minutes 3 times per day.  Use a warm saltwater solution containing 2 teaspoons of table salt per quart of water. If the wound is closed, apply a heating pad or warm, moist washcloth to the reddened area for 20 minutes 3 times per day.
  2. Antibiotic Ointment: Apply an antibiotic ointment 3 times a day.  If the area could become dirty, cover with a Band-Aid or a clean gauze dressing.
  3. Pain Medication: For pain relief, take acetaminophen every 4-6 hours (e.g. Tylenol; adult dosage 650 mg) OR ibuprofen every 6-8 hours (e.g. Advil, Motrin; adult dosage 400 mg).
    • Do not take ibuprofen if you have stomach problems, kidney disease, are pregnant, or have been told by your doctor to avoid this type of anti-inflammatory drug. Do not take ibuprofen for more than 7 days without consulting your doctor.
    • Do not take acetaminophen if you have liver disease.
    • Read the package instructions thoroughly on all medications that you take.
  4. Expected Course: Pain and swelling normally peak on day 2. Any redness should go away by day 3 or 4. Complete healing should occur by day 10.
  5. Contagiousness: For true wound infections, you can return to work or school after any fever is gone and you have received antibiotics for 24 hours.
  6. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Wound becomes more tender
    • Redness starts to spread
    • Pus, drainage or fever occurs
    • You become worse or develop any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Adult HouseCalls Online. Copyright © 2000-2004 David Thompson, M.D. FACEP

Reviewed 8/2004

Revised 8/2003

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