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, call 911 or 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
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
How are open wounds treated?
Home care for minor wounds
wounds can be treated at home. First, wash and disinfect the wound to
remove all dirt and debris. Use direct pressure and elevation to control
bleeding and swelling. When wrapping the wound, always use a sterile dressing
or bandage (very minor wounds may heal fine without a bandage). You’ll need to
keep the wound clean and dry for five days. You should also make sure you get plenty
Pain typically accompanies a wound. You can take
acetaminophen as directed on the package. Avoid aspirin products, since they
can cause or prolong bleeding. Apply ice if you have bruising or swelling, and
avoid picking at scabs. If you’re spending time outdoors in the sun, use sun
protection factor (SPF) 30 sunscreen over the area until it’s completely
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
doctor may use different techniques to treat your open wound. After cleaning
and possibly numbing the area with anesthetic, your doctor may close the
wound using skin glue, sutures, or stitches. You may receive a tetanus booster shot
if you have a puncture wound.
Other treatments for an open wound include pain medication
and penicillin. Your doctor may also prescribe penicillin or another antibiotic
if there’s an infection or high risk for developing an infection. In some
cases, surgery might be needed. If a body part is severed, it should be brought
to the hospital for possible reattachment. Wrap the body part in moist gauze
and pack it in ice.
When you leave the doctor’s office, you might have bandages
and dressings. It’s important to always wash your hands and work on a clean
surface when changing bandages and dressings. Disinfect and dry the wound
thoroughly before dressing it again. Dispose of old dressings and bandages in plastic
Are there any complications from having an open wound?
The main complication of an open wound is the risk of
infection. Call your doctor immediately if you've had a puncture wound or
serious accident and you’re showing signs of infection. These signs include continuous
bleeding and an increase in redness, pain, or swelling.
may have an infection if the wound area becomes dark and dry or bigger
and deeper. Other signs to look for include:
- an increase in drainage
- thick green, yellow, or brown pus
- pus with a foul odor
- a fever over 100.4ºF for more than four hours
- a tender lump in your groin or armpit
- a wound that isn’t healing
Your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic if infection from
bacteria develops. In serious cases, surgery may be required to remove infected tissue and
sometimes the surrounding tissue as well.
Conditions that can develop
from an open wound include the following.
- Lockjaw is caused by an infection from the bacteria
that cause tetanus. Lockjaw can cause muscle contractions in the jaw and neck.
- A necrotizing subcutaneous infection can
develop. This is a severe infection that can lead to gangrene, the loss and death of tissue.
gangrene, a type of wet gangrene caused by the bacteria known as Clostridia, can occur from an open
- Cellulitis, an infection of the skin, can also
Whether you have a minor or a more serious open wound, it’s
important to take quick action. Some open wounds can be treated at home, but
this isn’t always the case. You need medical
attention if you have a deep cut or if you are bleeding a lot. This ensures you
receive the most appropriate treatment and reduces your risk of complications