How To Know A Cut Is Infected
When you’re in the military, whether active duty or reserves, one of the most dangerous things that can happen is getting an injury. You don’t know what kind of medical care you’ll receive after being injured, so when someone gets hurt, you’ve got to act quickly to get them to a hospital. This means treating injuries with some basic first aid techniques, but more importantly, you need to treat wounds for any signs of infection.
A cut is no exception. After the initial discharge of a bit of pus and blood, your wound needs to heal properly before moving on to the next step in the wound-healing process. If the discharge continues through the wound healing process and begins to smell bad or have discoloration, it’s probably a sign of infection.
What Causes Wound Infection?
Wounds are susceptible to bacteria because they provide a nice moist environment that allows germs to thrive. Bacteria multiply rapidly in these conditions, causing swelling, redness and other symptoms associated with infection.
Most common causes of wound infection include:
The wound wasn’t cleaned thoroughly enough. The number one cause of infection is improper cleaning of the wound. Before you dress your wound, make sure all dirt and debris has been removed from the area. If there’s still stuff in there like grass clippings, hair, etc., remove them with tweezers and scissors. Don’t forget to clean under fingernails as well. Once you’re done making sure everything is gone, wash your hands carefully; if not, you could transfer those nasty little bugs to your wound. Then apply antiseptic ointment, which will help prevent the spread of infection.
You didn’t wash off any infected material at the scene of accident. Dirt, mud, sand, chemicals — even bits of metal — can introduce bacteria into a wound during an accident and cause infection. If possible, make sure you were wearing clean clothes, shoes and gloves, and don’t touch anything until you’re ready to wash your hands.
Your wound was exposed to harmful elements, such as heat or cold temperatures. When the air temperature drops below freezing, moisture condenses on skin surfaces and creates ideal environments for bacteria to grow. In extreme cases, exposure to severe weather conditions can also lead to infections. Keep yourself protected by dressing warmly and avoiding prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures.
You had an open wound already present when you arrived at the emergency room. For example, if you stepped on a nail while walking and then went directly to the ER without treatment, you may have an open wound waiting for bacteria to infect it. Also, if you’re diabetic or otherwise immunocompromised, you might develop a serious bacterial infection in your foot, requiring immediate attention.
If your wound isn’t showing signs of improvement within four days, contact your doctor. He or she can prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection. With proper treatment, however, you should recover fairly quickly.
Diagnosing Wound Infections
Whether you want to go to the doctor, take matters into your own hands or wait a few days longer, diagnosing a wound infection can be difficult. Here are some key indicators that you should look out for:
Redness – Redness around a wound indicates inflammation, which is a natural response of the body to fighting foreign particles. It’s important to note, though, that redness alone doesn’t always mean infection. Sometimes redness occurs naturally due to poor circulation, trauma, sunburn, etc.
Swelling – Swelling around the wound refers to fluid buildup caused by excess fluids leaking from the vessels surrounding the wound. Though this too is normal, excessive leakage can indicate infection.
Pain – Pain around a wound is often accompanied by fever, chills, headache and other obvious discomfort signals. However, pain itself doesn’t necessarily mean infection. Some people just experience minor aches, especially after working outside in the hot sun. Chronic pain, however, warrants further evaluation.
Fever – Fever is a telltale sign of infection. According to Mayo Clinic, “a high fever (over 100° Fahrenheit) can result from many different illnesses ranging from appendicitis to pneumonia.” So, keep track of your temperature throughout the day. If it rises above 101 degrees F, see your physician immediately.
Mildew – Mildew appears as a whitish film over the wound site. If you notice mildew covering the wound, take your finger and gently press down on the affected area. If the pressure feels cool, there’s likely an infection developing underneath the surface.
Discoloration – Discolored areas around the wound refer to purplish streaks or brown spots. These colors suggest that something is growing inside the wound.
Bad Smells – Bad smells around a wound usually mean infection. As previously mentioned, bacteria multiply rapidly in moist conditions. Therefore, if you detect foul odors coming from the wound, it’s best to consult a physician.
Smell good! Good hygiene is essential to preventing infection. Make sure your feet are dry and never walk barefoot in public places. Wear clean, comfortable socks and change your clothing regularly. And don’t share personal items, such as razors, towels, toiletries, etc. Use separate toothbrushes, cups, plates, forks, etc. whenever possible.
Wash your hands frequently to avoid spreading bacteria. Never run your fingers through garbage disposal units, pet waste containers, toilet bowls, or shared water faucets. Clean up spills promptly and thoroughly. Take care not to scratch an infected wound, especially if you have AIDS or another condition where scratching leads to scar tissue formation.
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