WOUND INFECTION

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


WHEN TO CALL YOUR DOCTOR FOR WOUND INFECTION

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

HOME CARE ADVICE FOR MILD REDNESS OF WOUND

  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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