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 his or her life. 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. If there has been a serious accident and there is a lot of bleeding, or the bleeding lasts for more than twenty minutes, call 911.
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 is usually not much bleeding, but the wound needs to be scrubbed and cleaned well 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. If the incision is deep, tendons, ligaments, and muscles might be damaged.
A laceration is an irregular or jagged break or tearing of the skin. Lacerations are often caused from accidents with tools and machinery, and bleed rapidly and extensively.
A puncture is a small hole caused by a long, pointy object, such as a nail, needle, or ice pick. Sometimes a bullet can also cause a puncture wound. Punctures may not bleed much, but they can be deep enough to damage internal organs. If you have a puncture wound—even 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.
If a body part is severed, always send it with the patient to the hospital for possible reattachment. Wrap the body part in moist gauze and pack it in ice if you can.
Because most open wounds are minor, they can be treated at home by doing the following:
- Wash and disinfect the wound to removing all dirt and debris.
- Use direct pressure and elevation to control bleeding and swelling.
- Bandage the wound with a sterile dressing or bandage (very minor wounds may heal fine without a bandage).
- Keep the wound clean and dry for five days.
- Take acetaminophen for pain if needed.
- Apply ice if there is bruising or swelling.
- Do not pick at scabs.
- Use SPF 30 sunscreen over the area until completely healed.
See your doctor if:
- the open wound is deeper than a half inch
- the bleeding does not stop with direct pressure and/or lasts for longer than 20 minutes
- the bleeding is the result of a serious accident
To treat the open wound, your doctor may do the following:
- clean the wound
- numb the area with anesthetic
- stitch or suture the wound
- use skin glue to close the wound
- administer a tetanus booster shot in puncture cases
- prescribe penicillin or another antibiotic if there is an infection
- prescribe pain medication
- reattached a severed body part
It is very important to always wash your hands and work on a clean surface when changing bandages and dressings. Disinfect and dry the wound thoroughly before redressing. Dispose of old dressings and bandages in a plastic bag.
The main complication from having an open wound is the risk of infection. Call your doctor immediately if you have had a puncture wound or serious accident and there are signs of infection. The following are signs of infection:
- increase in redness
- continuous bleeding
- wound area becomes dark and dry
- wound area becomes bigger or deeper
- increase in drainage
- thick green, yellow, or brownish pus
- foul-smelling pus
- fever over 100 degrees F for more than four hours
- tender lump in groin or armpit
- the wound is not healing
If an infection develops, your doctor will prescribe antibiotic medication. In serious cases, surgery may be required to remove infected tissue and sometimes the surrounding tissue. The following infections can develop from an open wound:
- lockjaw from the tetanus bacteria
- cellulitis (an infection in the skin)
- necrotizing subcutaneous infection (a severe infection that can lead to gangrene, the rotting away of tissue)
- gangrene (loss and death of tissue)
- gas gangrene, (a type of wet gangrene caused by the bacteria known as Clostridia)