Surgical wound care - open
An incision is a cut through the skin that is made during surgery. It is also called a surgical wound. Some incisions are small, others are long. The size of the incision depends on the kind of surgery you had.
Sometimes, an incision breaks open. This may happen along the entire cut or just part of it. Your doctor may decide not to close it again with sutures (stitches).
Surgical incision care; Open wound care
What to Expect at Home
If your doctor does not close your wound again with sutures, you need to care for it at home, since it may take time to heal. The wound will heal from the bottom to the top. A dressing helps absorb drainage and keep the skin from closing before the wound underneath fills in.
It is important to clean your hands before you change your dressing. You can use an alcohol-based cleanser. Or, you can wash your hands using these steps:
Removing the Old Dressing
Your health care provider will tell you how often to change your dressing. To prepare for the dressing change:
Remove the old dressing:
Caring for the Wound
You may use a gauze pad or soft cloth to clean the skin around your wound:
Your provider may also ask you to irrigate, or wash out, your wound:
DO NOT put any lotion, cream, or herbal remedies on or around your wound, unless your provider has said it is OK.
Putting on the New Dressing
Place the clean dressing on the wound as your provider taught you to. You may be using a wet-to-dry dressing.
Clean your hands when you are finished.
Throw away the old dressing and other used supplies in a waterproof plastic bag. Close it tightly, then double it before putting it in the trash.
Wash any soiled laundry from the dressing change separately from other laundry. Ask your provider if you need to add bleach to the wash water.
Use a dressing only once. Never reuse it.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your doctor if:
Smith SF, Duell DJ, Martin BC, Gonzalez L, Aebersold M. Wound care and dressings. In: Smith SF, Duell DJ, Martin BC, Gonzalez L, Aebersold M, eds. Clinical Nursing Skills: Basic to Advanced Skills. 9th ed. New York, NY: Pearson; 2016:chap 25.
Review Date: 3/5/2020
Reviewed By: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, general surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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