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Health Information For Parents
All kids get cuts and scrapes that parents can take care of at home. But what about more serious wounds, such as those that involve stitches or a hospital stay?
Most of us think of wounds happening because of accidents. But even clean surgical incisions (cuts) are wounds. So are places where tubes or catheters go into the body. Skin is the body’s largest organ and helps protect it from germs (bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that live on its surface. So, anything that breaks the skin is a wound because when the skin is broken, there’s a risk of germs getting into the body and causing an infection.
The deeper, larger, or dirtier a wound is, the more care it needs. That’s why a team of doctors and specially trained wound care nurses work together to monitor and treat serious wounds.
Doctors and nurses start by evaluating a wound based on the risk of infection:
Sometimes a wound is clean but there’s a risk of infection because of where it is. Fluids and other contaminants can get into a wound that’s in an area with more bacteria — like the urinary tract, gastrointestinal system, or respiratory system. Dirt or a foreign object in the wound also can increase the risk of infection.
If a wound is clean, a doctor will close it by stitching the edges together in two separate layers. The doctor will use dissolvable stitches to join the deeper layer of tissue under the skin. Then he or she will staple, tape, or stitch the skin over it.
Sometimes doctors use dissolvable stitches or tape to join the upper layer of skin as well as the lower layer. Otherwise, the doctor will remove any surface stitches or staples after about 7 to 10 days.
Doctors don’t always close a wound right away, though. If there’s a chance a wound is contaminated, they will leave it open to clean it out (for example, with an animal bite). Closing a contaminated wound can trap bacteria inside and lead to infection. When they’re sure no bacteria or other contaminants remain, they will stitch or close the wound.
Sometimes, doctors decide it’s best not to sew up a wound at all. If someone has lost a lot of tissue (like after a serious accident), it’s often helpful to leave the wound open to heal through natural scar formation.
The doctor will also ask about your child’s tetanus vaccine status, to make sure it’s up to date.
Before healing begins, the body gears up to protect against infection. For the first few days, a wound may be swollen, red, and painful. This
is a sign of the body’s immune system kicking in to protect the wound from infection. Keep the wound clean and dry at all times to help the healing process.
As the body does its healing work on the inside, a dry, temporary crust — a scab — forms over the wound on the outside. The scab’s job is to protect the wound as the damaged skin heals underneath.
Under the scab’s protective surface, new tissue forms. The body repairs damaged blood vessels and the skin makes collagen (a kind of tough, white protein fiber) to reconnect the broken tissue.
When healing is done, the scab dries up and falls off, leaving behind the repaired skin and, often, a scar. At this point, the scar will be almost 80–90% the strength of normal skin. It’ll take a few months for the scar to be back to 100% strength of normal skin.
Scars look different from normal skin. That’s because skin is made up of two proteins: elastin, which gives skin its flexibility, and collagen, which gives it strength. The body can’t create new elastin, so scars are made entirely of collagen. They’re tougher and less flexible than the skin around them.
Serious wounds don’t heal overnight. It can take weeks for the body to build new tissue. So good home care is important to prevent infection and minimize scarring.
The doctor will give you instructions on how to care for your child as the wound heals. In most cases, doctors ask patients to:
Our bodies rely on vitamins and minerals to heal. Offer your child healthy foods — especially lots of vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables and lean proteins — while the wound heals. He or she should drink plenty of water and eat high-fiber foods like whole grains to avoid constipation. (Constipation can be a side effect of pain medicine.)
The wound might heal quickly, but scars can take longer. For thick scars, the doctor might recommend massaging the area with lotion or petroleum jelly. Doing this helps the collagen mingle with the elastin in the surrounding skin, decreasing some of the scarring.
If a deep or large wound gets infected, it can be a serious problem. Call your doctor or surgeon right away if:
The good news about wound healing is that young bodies heal faster. Help your child take good care of the wound and follow the doctor’s advice. Before long, the wound will be a distant memory.
Find out how to handle minor cuts at home – and when to get medical care for a more serious injury.
Most cuts can be safely treated at home. But deeper cuts – or any wounds that won’t stop bleeding – need emergency medical treatment.
It’s important to protect kids from sharp and dangerous items around and outside the home. Here are ways to prevent cuts and other injuries.
An abscess is a sign of an infection, usually on the skin. Find out what to do if your child develops one.
Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and underlying tissues that can affect any area of the body. It begins in an area of broken skin, like a cut or scratch.
Osteomyelitis is a bone infection that can happen when germs enter an open wound. The easiest way to prevent it is to keep skin clean.
When skin is punctured or broken for any reason, staph bacteria can enter the wound and cause an infection. But good hygiene can prevent many staph infections. Learn more.
Animal bites and scratches that break the skin can cause infection. Rarely, animal bites can cause rabies, a dangerous, life-threatening disease.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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