How to Treat an Infected Wound

After coming home from surgery, it’s important for both the patient and caretaker to routinely inspect the incision area for any signs of wound infection. Even with the best post-surgery wound care, complications can arise. Unfortunately, wounds often don’t heal the way they should. In these situations, a wound infection can potentially develop. If any of these symptoms or signs of wound infection are noticed, contact a medical provider to learn the next steps. If a wound has become infected learn How to Clean an Infected Wound.

Here are some signs and symptoms of wound infection to keep an eye out for:

7 Signs of Wound Infection after Surgery

Sign of Infection 1: Noticeable Changes like Growth of the Wound

Look to see if there are any noticeable changes on the area. If the wound has grown in size, it could mean that it is spreading to tissue nearby.

Sign of Infection 2: Redness or Streaking on the Wound Area

If there is redness or red streaks on the skin near the wound, it could mean there is an infection, and that it may be spreading. If that is the case, see a doctor immediately.

Sign of Infection 3: Swelling Around the Wound

Wounds swell naturally when they first occur, so if there is swelling right after surgery, it should eventually decrease. However, if the swelling does not go down, that may be the sign of infection.

Sign of Infection 4: Excessive Pain

Just like with swelling, when a patient first comes out of surgery, wound pain is natural and will become less painful with time. However, an infected wound tends to do the opposite, and often gets more painful over time.

Sign of Infection 5: Warmth and/or Tenderness Around Wound

Wound tenderness is normal after surgery, but should subside as the wound heals. If it continues, gently feel the area around the wound and notice any warmth or tenderness, this may be a sign of wound infection.

Sign of Infection 6: Discharge, Pus or Odor

Look for pus, odor, or excessive discharge coming from the wound. While some wound discharge is common with a new wound, it should not be excessive, and should not have an odor. If any of these three issues occur around a wound, contact a doctor.

Signs of Infection 7: Fever

If a patient has a fever, this may mean they have a serious wound infection. Contact a medical provider as soon as possible.

Additionally, these factors may increase the risk for wound infection, and other complications:

  • Diabetes (Learn more about Diabetic Wound Care)
  • Obesity
  • Malnutrition
  • Smoking
  • Immune function problems

What is an Infected Wound?

An infected wound occurs when germs and bacteria enter a break in the skin, contaminating skin during the healing process.

What increases the risk for a wound infection?

Anything that hurts or limits the body's healing process has the potential to put a patient at risk of wound infection. This often includes:

  • Diseases such as diabetes, as well as other conditions can slow healing. Learn more about Diabetic Wound Care.
  • Poor blood supply tends to weaken the wound healing process and in turn increases the risk of wound infection.
  • A weak immune system due to poor nutrition often increases the chances of a wound infection.
  • If objects like metal shards or pieces of glass can get stuck in the wound, it can delay healing.

If left untreated, wound infections can cause a variety of health problems. This is why it's important to keep an eye on the wound and look for signs of infection.

How to Clean an Infected Wound

Cleaning an infected wound is not recommended without proper supervision and/or medical advice about the wound’s specific care needs. Infected wound cleaning should only be done after the patient has consulted with his or her doctor.

Step 1: Identify the Signs of Wound Infection

First identify any signs of wound infection; such as a growing redness or streaking, wound swelling, increased pain, warmth and tenderness around the wound, excessive discharge or odor.

Step 2: Inform the Doctor of any Signs of Infection

If any of these wound infection signs appear, make sure to contact a medical provider right away. They'll be able to prescribe the right wound care treatment product depending on the severity of the infection.

Step 3: Take Physician Recommended Medication

A physician may recommend over-the-counter pain reliever or fever reducer such as TYLENOL®(link is external) or MOTRIN®(link is external) for treating an infected wound. Additionally, a doctor may also prescribe oral antibiotics to help aid in recovery.

Step 4: Maintain Proper Healthy Lifestyle Habits

To ensure a speedy recovery from a wound infection, it's important to help the patient maintain proper healthy lifestyle habits. This means utilizing proper nutrition, getting adequate sleep, stress management and ensuring they are taking all prescribed medication.

Need additional wound care information? Call our nurse hotline at 1-800-526-3967 Monday through Friday EST (8am-8pm) to talk to a nurse and discuss additional information about how to identify and clean a wound. For additional information about how to treat an infected wound, and other infected wound care information please contact a healthcare professional.