Caring for wounds after surgery

Posted on 4 March 2014

Enduring surgery is stressful, but caring for your wound afterwards doesn’t have to be says Dr Gert van der Merwe, general surgeon at Mediclinic Tzaneen.

How do I take care of my wound/stitches post-surgery?
Taking care of a post-operative wound is extremely important. After most surgeries, it’s best to leave the wound alone – the dressing that’s applied in theatre is done so under sterile conditions and, as such, ensures a clean environment for the wound to heal in.

What if my dressings need to be changed?
Some dressings are water resistant so you may be able to shower or bath at home and pat it dry afterwards. If your dressing is one that needs to be changed regularly, it’s best to do this after taking a shower, ensuring that your hands and the area around the wound are scrupulously clean. After removing the dressing, apply some disinfectant to the area and allow to air-dry. This will ensure the maximum benefit of the disinfectant and, of course, facilitate the adhesion of the plaster to the skin. Avoid using surgical spirits to clean wounds, as it may damage tissues and prolong wound healing. For special wounds, especially those that need to be left open after surgery, follow your surgeon’s instructions. If you’re uncomfortable dealing with your wound, let your surgeon know; he may be able to organise a special wound care service for you.

How do I know if my wound is infected?
Be on the lookout for the following signs and, should you experience any of these, contact your surgeon immediately for treatment. An increase in:

  • Wound pain
  • Redness and warmth of the skin around the wound
  • Discharge from the wound

What if my stitches ‘pop’?
Contact your surgeon for instructions immediately. In a healthy patient, over a long enough period of time, all wounds will heal by themselves. Stitches tear out when excessive tension is applied to the skin, which is influenced by degree of activity and location of the wound. Where wound healing is generally poor – for instance, in the the lower limbs, stitches are kept in for up to three weeks, and on the face and neck where the blood supply is great, five days is adequate as a rule. The longer stitches stay in and the more tension on the wound, the worse the scar tends to be. After the removal of the stitches, the skin is generally sealed (watertight) but is not strong enough to withstand certain bumps or excessive tension, which could result in opening of the wound. If a bump or excessive tension (without evidence of infection) appears to be the cause of the wound breakdown, the wound may be cleaned and sutured again.

Published in Surgery

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