For many of us, wounds are a common part of everyday life, with accidents leading to cuts and scratches, grazes, lacerations, blisters and sometimes burns. These can happen no matter how careful we are or how organised our homes or workplaces can be. A wound occurs when a physical injury to the body breaks the skin or a mucous membrane. The body responds immediately and begins repairing the wound with the skin closing up and trying to return to normal as soon as possible. The time of repair may only be needed for a very short time and last for a matter of days or it may need to continue for weeks and months, depending on the type and size of the injury. In the past many wounds have been “fixed” with a plaster, the multipurpose plastic dressing strip. These are fine for small scratches and cuts but there are now many more dressings available for the different types of wounds that can occur. In the past it was believed that wounds should be kept dry but now it is recommended that to help a wound heal well it should be kept moist. This is because a moist wound environment allows the skin cells to grow more quickly, thus healing and returning to normal in much less time. The aim of wound care is to stop any bleeding, prevent infection and to restore the health of the tissue. With any wound once any bleeding is stopped it needs to be cleaned. If it is already a clean wound then warm running water or gauze soaked in saline is appropriate to be used. Next dry the area and apply the dressing. However if the wound is unclean and is contaminated with any dirt, gravel or foreign bodies then these need to be removed so that the wound does not become infected. It is necessary in these cases to use an antiseptic to wash the area and remove unwanted particles and debris. It is important to try and prevent infection from occurring but if the area of the wound becomes swollen, red, hot and angry then it may be infected and you will need to see your doctor regarding antibiotics. Wounds caused by burns may occur due to sunlight, flames from fire, scalds, chemical or electrical sources. The affected area must be cooled immediately under cold running tap water for at least 20 to 30 minutes. The use of ice is not recommended in these cases. Burns can be superficial affecting only the top surface layer of skin or can be much more serious affecting many layers of tissues. Blisters should not be burst and fat, lotions or ointments should be avoided.
There are a number of life style factors that can help with wound healing such as
- Diet – Your diet can affect the speed of the healing process. Foods associated with wound healing are protein, Vitamin C and Vitamin A and zinc and a diet enriched with these components in your diet can enhance wound healing.
- Exercise – Regular exercise increases blood flow, improves general health and also speeds wound healing.
- Medication – Medication that affects wound healing includes anti-inflammatory drugs as these can interfere with the body’s natural healing process and hamper the action of immune system cells. Talk to your pharmacist about your medication to see if any that you are prescribed will hinder wound healing.
- Dressing type – Wounds that are dressed and kept warm heal faster. Dressings also need to be kept clean and changed every few days or as often as necessary. See your Self Care pharmacist about the many types of dressings that are available and the most appropriate one for a particular wound or your first aid kit. Also ask for the Pharmacy Self Care “Wound Care” card to take home and share with the family.
Prepared by Pharmacy Self Care, Pharmaceutical Society of NZ Inc, Grand Arcade Tower, level 10, 16-20 Willis St, Wellington 6142. Pharmacy Self Care Column – October 2013