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How to tell if a wound is infected

From skateboard mishaps to DIY projects gone awry, cuts and scrapes are a simple fact of life. But if you or your kiddo has a wound that won’t heal, you may need more than just a bandage.

Skin is the body’s first line of defense against infection. Even the smallest cuts are prone to harmful bacteria that can cause inflammation and tissue damage. Delaying medical treatment will only make matters worse and could lead to something much more serious, such as a bacterial infection.  

Don’t take a chance with your health. Know how to recognize the signs of infection, and seek timely care to keep a small wound from becoming a big problem.

Signs and risks of infection

Most minor cuts and scrapes heal on their own and should begin to form a scab within a few days. If a wound doesn’t improve over time, it may be infected. Signs of infection include:

  • Redness, swelling and warmth
  • Fever
  • Pus or drainage
  • Red streaks around the wound

The chance of infection is greater when a wound:

  • Is caused by a puncture from glass or a nail
  • Is the result of a bite
  • Contains saliva or dirt
  • Occurs on the foot, hand, groin area or armpit

People with certain conditions, such as diabetes, poor blood circulation or a weak immune system, are at higher risk for developing infections.

When is it an emergency?

If any of the following are true for your situation, you should visit your nearby emergency department:

  • You have a long or deep cut that may have severed a tendon or nerve
  • The wound is bleeding heavily and won’t stop
  • The wound is on your eye or genitalia
  • You have numbness or tingling around the area of the wound

How do you treat a wound at home?

If your wound is minor and you do not have signs of infection, the following steps are recommended:

1.  Wash your hands before touching the area around the wound. This will help prevent infection.

2.  Apply pressure to stop the bleeding.

3.  Clean the wound and surrounding area daily, using soap and water.

4.  Use a clean cloth to pat the wound dry.

5.  Apply an antibiotic ointment, such as Neosporin, for the first 2 or 3 days.

6.  Cover the wound with an adhesive bandage. Change the bandage daily (or each time it gets wet) and allow your wound to air out for several hours a day.

7.  If the wound is painful, take ibuprofen to help reduce pain and inflammation.

How can you get wound to heal faster?

Some studies have found that keeping wounds moist and covered helps them heal faster. The moistness from antibiotic ointment helps stimulate the healing process, and covering the wound creates a protective barrier to keep germs at bay, reducing the risk of infection.

Staying hydrated, eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of rest can also speed up wound healing.

Get fast, friendly service at urgent care — when you need it

Time doesn’t heal all wounds. If you have any signs of infection, or your wound doesn’t seem to be healing properly, visit your nearby Indigo Health as soon as possible. Our neighborhood walk-in clinics are open 8 am to 8 pm every day, even weekends and holidays.

Our friendly providers will assess your injury and evaluate whether you need an oral antibiotic to knock down infection. If you are prescribed an antibiotic, you can expect to start seeing improvement within a couple of days. Just be sure to follow your antibiotic regimen from start to finish.

We can also let you know if stitches are needed and administer a tetanus shot if your vaccination is not up-to-date. We’re here to help if you have any questions or concerns.

Choose a convenient appointment time online or simply walk in for care.

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