If a skin injury required medical attention, a doctor will want to know how the injury occurred, what home care was performed, if there is any pain, and when the last tetanus shot may have been.
If a hand or finger is involved, the doctor will want to make sure the individual is able to move the extremity or finger through its full range of motion. Sensation and circulation to the area will be tested carefully as well. If there is some suspicion of a foreign body in the wound or an underlying bone break, an x-ray may be ordered.
Pressure sores (bedsores) are usually unmistakable, even in the initial stages, but a doctor is likely to order blood tests to check the individual's nutritional status and overall health. Other tests may include: urine analysis and culture, stool culture, and a wound biopsy. A wound biopsy is a sample of tissue taken from wounds that do not heal or from chronic (long-term) pressure sores. The tissue may also be checked for cancer, which is a risk in individuals with chronic wounds.
signs and symptoms
Skin wounds: All bites and any cut or laceration greater than 1/2-inch long in which fat or deeper tissues (muscle or bone) can be seen will require medical attention.
Any redness extending from the wound after two days or yellow drainage from the area should warrant medical attention. Infection may cause redness, swelling, heat, pus, or watery discharge from a puncture wound that is not noticed or not treated properly.
Puncture wounds usually cause pain and mild bleeding at the site of the puncture. It is usually fairly obvious if cut. However, small pieces of glass may cause puncture wounds that the individual may not notice at first.
Most doctors will not stitch a cut or laceration that is more than eight to 12 hours old. This is because there is a greater chance of infection after that time. In fact, after three hours, the incidence of infection begins to increase. Therefore, do not wait to have the injury repaired. If in doubt, call a doctor or go to the nearest hospital's emergency department. An open wound takes longer to heal and leaves a bigger scar.
Healthcare providers recommend that 911 be called if: the wound is obviously life-threatening; any laceration is greater than 1/2-inch long and is through all layers of the skin exposing the underlying fat; the bleeding cannot be stopped; if the blood continues to spurt from the wound. Apply pressure and go to the hospital's emergency department: if there may be something in the wound such as glass, wood, or rust; if the individual cannot move their fingers or toes in the area of the laceration or if they have lost sensation in the area beyond the laceration; and for any bite wound (human or animal).
Pressure sores: Bedsores fall into one of four stages based on their severity. Pressure sores are categorized by severity, from Stage I (earliest signs) to Stage IV (worst). The National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel, a professional organization dedicated to the prevention and treatment of pressure sores, has defined each stage as follows:
Stage I: Initially, a pressure sore appears as a persistent area of red skin that may itch or hurt and feel warm and spongy or firm to the touch. In African Americans, Hispanics, and people with darker skin, the mark may appear to have a blue or purple cast, or look flaky or ashen. Stage I wounds are superficial and go away shortly after the pressure is relieved.
Stage II: In stage II, some skin loss has already occurred, either in the epidermis, the outermost layer of skin, in the dermis, the skin's deeper layer, or in both. The wound is now an open sore that looks like a blister or an abrasion, and the surrounding tissues may show red or purple discoloration. If treated promptly, stage II sores usually heal fairly quickly.
Stage III: When a pressure ulcer reaches stage III, the damage has extended to the tissue below the skin, creating a deep, crater-like wound.
Stage IV: Stage IV is the most serious and advanced stage. The pressure ulcer has become so deep that there is damage to the muscle and bone, and sometimes tendons and joints. Stage IV wounds are extremely difficult to heal and can lead to lethal infections.
If an individual uses a wheelchair, they are most likely to develop a pressure sore on: the tailbone or buttocks; the shoulder blades and spine; or the backs of the arms and legs where they rest against the chair. When an individual is bed-bound, pressure sores can occur on: the back or sides of the head; the rims of the ears; the shoulders or shoulder blades; the hipbones, lower back, or tailbone; or the backs or sides of the knees, heels, ankles, and toes.
Anal fissure: The main signs and symptoms of an anal fissure include: pain or burning during bowel movements that eases until the next bowel movement; bright red blood on the outside of the stool or on toilet paper or wipes after a bowel movement; and itching or irritation around the anus.
Extravasation: During extravasation, the individual will feel burning, stinging, or pain at the injection site. Redness or swelling may be observed at the site of injection. Also, there may be no blood return in the syringe when the healthcare worker tries to get blood.
Complications from a lack of wound care can lead to other health problems.
Cellulitis: Cellulitis is a potentially serious bacterial infection of the skin. Cellulitis appears as a swollen, red area of skin that feels hot and tender, and it may spread rapidly. Skin on the face or lower legs is most commonly affected by this infection, though cellulitis can occur on any part of the body. Cellulitis may only affect the surface of the skin. However, cellulitis may also affect the tissues underlying skin and can spread to lymph nodes and the bloodstream. Left untreated, the spreading bacterial infection may rapidly turn into a life-threatening condition.
Bone and joint infections: Bone and joint infections develop when the infection from a bedsore burrows deep into the joints and bones. Joint infections (called septic or infectious arthritis) can damage cartilage and tissue within days, whereas bone infections (osteomyelitis) may develop over years if not treated. Eventually, bone infections can lead to bone death, reduced function of the joints and limbs, and amputation.
Necrotizing fasciitis: Necrotizing fasciitis is a rapidly spreading infection that destroys the layers of tissue that surround the muscles. Initial signs and symptoms include fever, pain, and massive swelling. Without treatment, death can occur in as little as 12-24 hours.
Gas gangrene (myonecrosis): Gas gangrene is a rare and severe form of gangrene. Gas gangrene develops suddenly and dramatically and spreads so rapidly that changes in tissue are noticeable within minutes. The bacteria responsible for gas gangrene (Clostridium sp.) produce toxins that completely destroy affected muscle tissue and cause potentially fatal systemic problems.
Sepsis: Sepsis (a whole body response to an infection) can occur from a wound such as advanced pressure sores. Sepsis occurs when bacteria from a massive infection enter the bloodstream and spread throughout the body. Sepsis is a rapidly progressing, life-threatening condition that can cause shock and organ failure.
Skin cancer: Cancer resulting from poor wound healing may occur. This type of cancer is usually an aggressive carcinoma affecting the skin's squamous cells.
Fistulas: A fistula is an abnormal connection between an organ, vessel, or intestine and another structure. Fistulas are usually the result of a wound from an injury or surgery. They may also result from infection or inflammation.
causes and risk factors
Minor wounds include cuts, scrapes, scratches, and punctured skin. They often occur as a result of an accident or injury, but surgical incisions, sutures, and stitches also cause wounds. Minor wounds usually are not serious, but even cuts and scrapes require care.
Scrapes and abrasions are superficial (on the surface). The deeper skin layers are intact, and bleeding is slow and oozing. Scrapes and abrasions are usually caused by friction or rubbing against an abrasive surface.
Lacerations (cuts) go through all layers of the skin and into the fat or deeper tissues. Bleeding may be more brisk or severe. Severe blows by a blunt object, falls against a hard surface, or contact with a sharp object are the most common causes of lacerations.
Puncture wounds are generally caused by a sharp pointed object entering the skin. Most common examples are stepping on a nail or getting stuck with a needle or a tack. Bleeding is usually minimal, and the wound may be barely noticeable.
Human bites and animal bites can be puncture wounds, lacerations, or a combination of both. These wounds are always contaminated by saliva and require extra care.
Pressure (decubitus) ulcers
A pressure (decubitus) ulcer, also known as a bedsore, is an area of skin that breaks down when an individual stays in one position for too long without shifting their weight. This often happens if an individual uses a wheelchair or if they are bedridden, even for a short period of time (such as after surgery or an injury). Constant pressure against the skin reduces the blood supply to that area, and the affected tissue dies.
A pressure ulcer starts as reddened skin but gets progressively worse, forming a blister, then an open sore, and finally a crater. The most common places for pressure ulcers are over bony prominences (bones close to the skin) like the elbow, heels, hips, ankles, shoulders, back, and the back of the head. Pressure ulcers occur in approximately 9% of hospitalized patients, usually during the first two weeks of hospitalization, and in approximately one fourth of nursing home residents.
Risk factors for developing a pressure ulcer include:
Age: The majority of pressure sores occur in people older than 70. Older adults tend to have thinner skin than younger people do, making them more susceptible to damage from minor pressure. Elderly individuals also tend to be underweight, with less natural cushioning over their bones. And poor nutrition, a serious problem among older adults, not only affects the integrity of the skin and blood vessels but also hinders wound healing. Even with optimum nutrition and good overall health, wounds tend to heal more slowly as individuals age. Also, nursing home residents have higher rates of bedsores than do people who are hospitalized or cared for at home due to immobilization and urinary incontinence.
Lack of pain perception: Individuals with a loss of sensation, such as in spinal cord injuries or disease, cannot feel discomfort or the need to change positions when a bedsore is forming.
Malnutrition: Individuals are more likely to develop pressure sores if they have a poor diet, especially one deficient in protein, zinc, and vitamin C. Individuals that are lacking in nutrition are also more likely to have recurrent pressure sores, more severe infections, and slower healing wounds than are people with healthier diets.
Urinary or fecal incontinence: Problems with bladder control can greatly increase the risk of pressure sores because the skin stays moist, making it more likely be damaged. Bacteria from fecal matter not only can cause serious local infections but also lead to life-threatening systemic complications such as sepsis, gangrene and, rarely, necrotizing fasciitis (a severe and rapidly spreading infection).
Conditions affecting circulation:
Because certain health problems, such as diabetes and vascular disease, affect circulation, parts of the body may not receive adequate blood flow increasing an individual's risk of tissue damage.
Smoking: Smokers have a higher incidence of pressure sores than nonsmokers. Smokers also tend to develop more severe wounds and to heal more slowly, mainly because nicotine impairs circulation and reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood. The risk increases with the number of years and cigarettes smoked.
Decreased mental awareness: Individuals whose mental awareness is lessened by disease, trauma, or medications are often less able to take the actions needed to prevent or care for pressure sores.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDKD), an estimated 18 million Americans (6.3% of the population) are known to have diabetes, and millions more are considered to be at risk. Of those at risk, diabetes is undiagnosed in 5.2 million. Diabetic foot lesions are responsible for more hospitalizations than any other complication of diabetes. Among patients with diabetes, 15% will develop a foot ulcer, and 12-24% of those with a foot ulcer will require amputation. Diabetic ulcers are the most common foot injuries leading to lower extremity amputation in the United States, accounting for 60% of these amputations.
Diabetic peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage as a result of diabetes) causes the greatest risk of foot ulceration, due to microvascular (small blood vessels) disease and uncontrolled blood sugar levels. Peripheral neuropathy disables sensation in the feet so the individual is unable to sense pain or discomfort if injured in that area. This allows the injury to be left untreated, increasing the risk of a more severe wound (ulcer) with infection.
Anal fissure: An anal fissure is a small tear in the lining of the anal canal. Anal fissures are common in infants ages six to 24 months, and anal fissures are less likely to develop in older children. Adults may develop anal fissures as a result of passing hard or large stools during bowel movements.
Anal fissures may cause pain and bleeding. More than 90% of anal fissures heal on their own. Individuals can use topical creams or suppositories to provide relief as they heal. Anal fissures that fail to heal may become chronic and cause considerable discomfort.
Extravasation: Extravasation injury is a well-known adverse event associated with certain intravenous (IV) drugs, such as chemotherapy. Extravasation occurs when drugs escape from the veins or IV catheters into subcutaneous (subQ) tissues. Accidental extravasation occurs in approximately 0.1-6% of patients receiving intravenous chemotherapy. Cancer patients are inherently at high risk of extravasation due to the fact that they often require multiple puncture sites for IV drugs and have thin and fragile veins. Some have peripheral vascular disease and malnutrition. Certain chemotherapy drugs, such as doxorubicin (Adriamycin®) and daunorubicin (Cerubidine®), are more likely to cause extravasation than others.