Each issue, Apple Bites brings you a tool you can apply in your daily practice.
Measurement of wounds is an important component of wound assessment and provides baseline measurements, enables monitoring of healing rates, and helps distinguish among wounds that are static, deteriorating, or improving. All alterations in skin integrity, including those caused by ulcers, venous ulcers, arterial ulcers, neuropathic ulcers, incision lines, grafts, donor sites, abscesses, and rashes should be measured when they’re discovered and at intervals thereafter, based on institutional policy. (more…)
BY: NANCY MORGAN, RN, BSN, MBA, WOCN, WCC, CWCMS, DWC
An essential part of weekly wound assessment is measuring the wound. It’s vitally important to use a consistent technique every time you measure. The most common type of measurement is linear measurement, also known as the “clock” method. In this technique, you measure the longest length, greatest width, and greatest depth of the wound, using the body as the face of an imaginary clock. Document the longest length using the face of the clock over the wound bed, and then measure the greatest width. On the feet, the heels are always at 12 o’clock and the toes are always 6 o’clock. Document all measurements in centimeters, as L x W x D. Remember—sometimes length is smaller than width. (more…)
Health care providers are by nature an altruistic bunch. I have the honor of interviewing potential entries to my beloved profession as part of the admissions process at the newest Osteopathic Medical School in Indiana, Marian University. The process is unique in that it does not simply ask the age old questions of “Why you want to be a physician ?”, (“Because I want to do primary care in a rural area”). No, our probing involves scenarios in which they have to look at a social situation, identify their thoughts, those of the opposing views and then cohesively demonstrate intelligence, confidence, logical thought processes and humanity…all in an 8 minute period repeated 7 times. Their responses juxtaposed against what I see in my day to day always gives me pause to think about how the practice of medicine has been so perverted by the promotion of self abdication of responsibility. The “let your government do it for you” mantras and newest politically correct definitions of disabled (encompassing everything from melancholia to dislike of red M and M’s) have resulted in a major paradigm shift in medicine. Whereas, the hospitals once touted their ability to heal all manner of maladies, they now recognize their cost ineffectiveness, more detrimental than beneficial care (just check the nutritional parameters of anyone pre and post hospitalization) and the downright danger of going to one, unless you are a burgeoning superbug.(more…)
Despite the healthcare team’s best efforts, not all hospitalizations go smoothly. This article describes the case of an obese patient who underwent bariatric surgery. After a 62-day hospital stay, during which a multidisciplinary team collaborated to deliver the best care possible, he died. Although the outcome certainly wasn’t what we wanted, we’d like to share his story to raise awareness of the challenges of caring for bariatric patients.
By David L. Johnson, NHA, RAC-CT As a senior quality improvement specialist with IPRO, the Quality Improvement Organization for New York State over the past 11 years, I’ve been tasked with helping skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) embrace the process of continuous quality improvement. A necessary component of this effort has been to collect, understand, and analyze timely and accurate data.…
By Jeri Lundgren, BSN, RN, PHN, CWS, CWCN As a wound care nurse, do you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders when trying to implement a pressure ulcer prevention program? Many staff members think it’s up to the wound care nurse alone to implement the program. However, a successful program requires involvement from all staff and is…
By Hedy Badolato, RD, CSR, CNSC; Denise Dacey, RD, CDE; Kim Stevens, BSN, RN, CCRN; Jen Fox, BSN, RN, CCRN; Connie Johnson, MSN, RN, WCC, LLE, OMS, DAPWCA; Hatim Youssef, DO, FCCP; and Scott Sinner, MD, FACP Despite the healthcare team’s best efforts, not all hospitalizations go smoothly. This article describes the case of an obese patient who underwent bariatric…
Radiation and lymphedema Radiation therapy doesn’t increase the incidence of lymphedema in patients with node-negative breast cancer, according to research presented at the American Society for Radiation Oncology’s 56th Annual Meeting held this fall.
Here is a list of valuable ostomy resources, some suggested by our colleagues who follow Wound Care Advisor on Twitter. United Ostomy Association of America The United Ostomy Association of America provides comprehensive resources for patients, including information about the types of ostomies and issues related to nutrition, sexuality, and travel. Much of the information is also available in Spanish…
By Stanley A. Rynkiewicz III, MSN, RN, WCC, DWC, CCS Developing a successful wound care program requires a strong commitment and a willingness to learn. Our experience with creating such a program at Deer Meadows Home Health and Support Services, LLC (DMHHSS), a nonprofit home-care facility in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, may help others build a similar wound care program and reap…
By Nancy Morgan, RN, BSN, MBA, WOC, WCC, DWC, OMS Each issue, Apple Bites brings you a tool you can apply in your daily practice. Measurement of wounds is an important component of wound assessment and provides baseline measurements, enables monitoring of healing rates, and helps distinguish among wounds that are static, deteriorating, or improving. All alterations in skin integrity,…
By Joy Hooper, BSN, RN, CWOCN, OMS Have you ever had an idea for improving patient care that you wanted to market? You may have lacked confidence or know-how, as I once did. But one patient, a crafty idea, and a trip to Walmart put me on the path to becoming a successful nurse entrepreneur.
By Ronald A. Sherman, MD; Sharon Mendez, RN, CWS; and Catherine McMillan, BA Note From the Editor: This is the second of two articles on maggot therapy. The first article appeared in our July/August 2014 issue, Read part 1 here. Whether your practice is an acute-care setting, a clinic, home care, or elsewhere, maggot debridement therapy (MDT) can prove to…
By Laura L. Barry, MBA, MMsc, and Maureen Sirois, MSN, RN, CEN, ANP Why is it that some things don’t bother us, while other things catapult us from an emotional 0 to 60 mph in a heartbeat? We all know what it feels like when someone says or does something that gets our juices flowing. We feel it in our…
By: Donna Sardina, RN, MHA, WCC, CWCMS, DWC, OMS Have you ever had a patient yell “Get out of my room!” or “Don’t touch me! I don’t want to be turned”? How about “No! Don’t put those compression stockings on my legs!” or “No, I’m not going to wear those ugly orthopedic shoes!” or “No way. I can’t stay in bed.…
Having patients view photographs of their wounds can motivate them to become more involved in managing those wounds, according to a study in International Wound Journal, particularly when wounds are in difficult-to-see locations. (more…)
Each month, Apple Bites brings you a tool you can apply in your daily practice.
Xerosis, an abnormal dryness of the skin, is one of the most common skin conditions among patients with type 2 diabetes. While assessing for predictors of foot lesions in patients with diabetes, the authors of one study found that 82.1% of these patients had skin with dryness, cracks, or fissures. An unpublished survey of 105 consecutive patients with diabetes revealed that 75% had clinical manifestations of dry skin. (more…)
By Rosalyn S. Jordan, RN, BSN, MSc, CWOCN, WCC, OMS; and Judith LaDonna Burns, LPN, WCC, DFC
About 1 million people in the United States have either temporary or permanent stomas. A stoma is created surgically to divert fecal material or urine in patients with GI or urinary tract diseases or disorders.
A stoma has no sensory nerve endings and is insensitive to pain. Yet several complications can affect it, making accurate assessment crucial. These complications may occur during the immediate postoperative period, within 30 days after surgery, or later. Lifelong assessment by a healthcare provider with knowledge of ostomy surgeries and complications is important. (more…)
With so much focus on dressing choices, it’s easy to forget the importance of wound cleansing. Cleaning a wound removes loose debris and planktonic (free-floating) bacteria, provides protection to promote an optimal environment for healing, and facilitates wound assessment by optimizing visualization of the wound. You should clean a wound every time you change a dressing, unless it’s contraindicated.
Here’s a review of how to choose and use a wound cleanser so you can see if your practice is up to date. (more…)
Editor’s note: Part 1 of this series, published in the September-October issue, discussed lymphedema pathology and diagnosis. This article, Part 2, covers treatment.
Traditional treatment approaches
Traditionally, lymphedema treatment has been approached without a clear understanding of the underlying structure and function of lymphatic tissues. Ineffective traditional treatments include elevation, elastic garments, pneumatic pumps, surgery, diuretics, and benzopyrones (such as warfarin). Because many traditional treatments are still overused and some may be appropriate for limited use, it’s important for clinicians to understand these approaches.
As a sole therapy for lymphedema, elevation of the affected part provides only short-lived results. Ever-increasing macromolecular wastes retain water against the effects of gravity. Increased interstitial colloid osmotic pressure must be addressed by interventions targeted at improving lymphatic function—not just a position change. Otherwise, lymphedema will progress. Furthermore, elevation alone is impractical, promotes deconditioning, and alters lifestyle for prolonged periods.
Elastic garments prove inadequate because they attempt to treat lymphedema with compression alone. Medically correct garments are engineered with thoughtful attention to high-quality textiles and offer gradient support, which promotes proximal flow. However, without precise tissue stimulation leading to improved lymphangioactivity (lymph-vessel pulsation), macromolecular wastes can’t be removed.
Interstitial pressure increases caused by compression garments impede further fluid accumulation. When these garments are removed, the spontaneous girth increase causes an imprecise fit, and the garment rapidly leads to a countertherapeutic effect. Furthermore, compression garments don’t combat the osmotic forces generated by ever-increasing interstitial wastes. Except in patients diagnosed with stage 0 or stage 1 lymphedema, disease progression involving metaplasia ensues. Although elastic compression garments are a cornerstone of long-term management, they shouldn’t be used as a stand-alone treatment.
Pneumatic compression pump
Formerly, the pneumatic compression pump (PCP) was considered the standard of care for lymphedema. However, when inflated, the pump doesn’t increase the frequency of lymph-vessel contraction or enhance lymph capillary absorption. What’s more, accelerated fibrosis development and rapid tissue refilling occur when a PCP is removed. Also, PCP use disregards the ipsilateral territory of the excised regional nodes, effectively dumping fluid from the leg into the trunk. A PCP is appropriate only when nothing else is available, as it may worsen the patient’s condition.
Surgical approaches to treating lymphedema involve either excisional (debulking) or microsurgical techniques. The most extensive surgical technique, the radical Charles procedure, completely debulks all involved tissue down to the muscle fascia. Split-thickness grafts are then harvested from excised skin and donor sites, and applied to the fascia to achieve so-called limb reduction.
Most debulking procedures have been applied to lower-extremity lymphedema and offer poor cosmetic results. Less radical surgeries favor long incisions, preserving the skin but excising subcutaneous edematous portions to reduce girth. Although less cosmetically alarming, these procedures effectively amputate the subcutaneous space where lymph vessels reside. Other surgical approaches are beyond the scope of this article.
Generally, surgery isn’t a good approach for any patient, as it’s linked to significant morbidity, such as skin necrosis, infection, and sensory changes. In the future, less invasive procedures may be available that yield significant improvement without these adverse effects.
Although diuretics are prescribed appropriately to address water-rich edemas of venous origin, they disregard the fact that lymphedema is a protein-rich edema. Long-term, high-dose diuretic therapy leads to treatment-resistant limbs, similar to those that have received intensive pneumatic compression.
Benzopyrones such as warfarin decrease swelling by combating protein accumulation in fluid. Such drugs have undergone clinical trials abroad. Their mechanism is to promote macrophage migration into interstitial fluid, as well as subsequent proteolysis. Due to significant risk of liver damage or failure, benzopyrones haven’t been approved for treating lymphedema.
Complete decongestive therapy: The current treatment approach
Currently, the gold standard for lymphedema treatment is complete decongestive therapy (CDT). Michael Foeldi and Etelka Foeldi, who originated this method, discovered a unique symbiotic relationship among five distinct modalities that addresses the challenges of lymphedema treatment. In 1989, CDT was brought to the United States by Robert Lerner and has become the mainstay of lymphedema treatment here.
CDT is a two-phase approach involving an intensive clinical effort followed by a semi-intensive home-care program geared toward autonomous management, stabilization, and continual improvement. It involves manual lymph drainage (MLD), compression bandaging, exercise, skin and nail hygiene, and self-care education. (See Phases of complete decongestive therapy by clicking the PDF icon above.)
Manual lymph drainage
A type of soft-tissue mobilization, MLD provides skin traction, stimulating superficial lymph vessels and nodes. Lymph capillaries contain large inter-endothelial inlets called swinging tips, akin to overlapping shingles. Each overlapping cell is tethered to the interstitial matrix by anchoring filaments, so that fluid increases cause immediate distention and lymph inflow. Manual skin traction using MLD promotes greater lymph fluid uptake by stretching these filamentous structures, opening the swinging tips.
MLD also provides extrinsic stimulation of the lymphangion (the segment of a lymph vessel between a distal and proximal valve), drawing fluid into the system at the capillary level and promoting flow at the vessel level toward regional lymph nodes. Usually, these segments contract and relax in a rhythmic fashion six times per minute. MLD triples this output to 18 or 20 times per minute, greatly enhancing systemic transport.
MLD requires intensive daily treatment sessions to strengthen collateral flow as a pathway to circumventing surgical or developmental lymphatic disruption. Treatment strategies further recruit more deeply situated lymphatics such as the thoracic duct, as well as lumbar trunks that empty at the juncture of the internal jugular and subclavian veins to improve global uptake. MLD thus stimulates deeper vessel angioactivity to help drain the superficial vessels that drain toward them.
Compression bandaging provides tissue support after MLD to prevent reflux, slow new fluid formation, and mechanically soften fibrotic areas. Bandaging techniques provide a high working pressure to harness the muscle and joint pumps as a propellant for lymph while resisting retrograde flow created by gravity and centrifugal forces during movement. Pure cotton materials coupled with specialized padding create a soft, castlike environment, which confines swollen tissues without constriction. By relying on high working pressure and low resting pressures to decrease limb swelling, this strategy achieves greater control over intensity (level of compression/pressure exerted), with little to no soft-tissue injury or discomfort.
The patient wears this bulky inelastic complex after each MLD treatment until the next day’s session to ensure limb-volume reduction in a stable, linear fashion. Once a plateau is reached, tissue stabilization and self-care education are the goals of additional sessions.
Exercise always must be done with adequate support to counteract fluid formation. During the intensive CDT phase, limbs are bandaged to provide complete around-the-clock containment. Gentle exercises encourage blood flow into the muscle; during muscle contraction, this creates a favorable internal pressure that effectively squeezes the subcutaneous space between the bandage wall and muscle. Because every bandage strives to provide a gradient of support, fluid tends to drain proximally to the bandage—in most cases, to the trunk.
Skin and nail hygiene
Without intact, well-hydrated skin, cellulitic infections occur in many lymphedema patients whose immune response has been diminished by regional lymphadenectomy or inherited deficiencies. To prevent infection caused by avoidable external events, patients receive clear guidelines to reinforce appropriate behavior. As most cellulitis results from resident skin pathogens (streptococci and staphylococci), maintaining a low skin pH helps control colonization. Ways to avoid recurrent infections include maintaining an acid mantle on the skin using low-pH-formulated lotions and avoiding injury from daily tasks that may scratch, puncture, burn, or abrade the skin. Patients should receive lists of self-care precautions at the time of treatment.
Because lymphedema is a chronic condition, patients must receive self-care education for daily management to avoid lymphedema destabilization, which can lead to tissue saturation and subsequent skin changes. Therapists must provide patients with appropriate self-care tools and knowledge to maintain adequate treatment results. Teaching topics include how to apply and remove compression garments and bandages and how to exercise safely, preserve skin integrity, monitor for infection, and respond appropriately to infection and significant changes in limb mobility.
An underrecognized and mistreated problem
Lymphedema remains an underrecognized and mistreated condition, even though CDT yields safe, reliable results. Early detection, accurate staging, proper diagnosis, and appropriate treatment can slow the inevitable progression of lymphedema. Wound care specialists should adapt wound therapy to address not just the wound but the edematous environment responsible for delayed wound resolution.
Al-Niaimi F, Cox N. Cellulitis and lymphedema: a vicious cycle. J Lymphoedema. 2009;4:38-42.
Browse N, Burnand KG, Mortimer PS. Diseases of the Lymphatics. London: Hodder Arnold; 2003.
Casley-Smith JR, Casley-Smith JR. Modern Treatment for Lymphoedema. 5th ed. The Lymphoedema Association of Australia; 1997.
Cooper R, White R. Cutaneous infections in lymphoedema. J Lymphoedema. 2009:4:44-8.
Foeldi M. Foeldi’s Textbook of Lymphology: For Physicians and Lymphedema Therapists. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 2012.
International Society of Lymphology. The diagnosis and treatment of peripheral lymphedema. Consensus Document of the International Society of Lymphology. Lymphology. 2009 Jun;42(2):51-60.
Leduc A, Bastin R, Bourgeois P. Lymphatic reabsorption of proteins and pressotherapies. Progress in Lymphology XI. 1988:591-2.
Wound care has come a long way in just a few decades. With our expanded knowledge of wound healing and recent advances in treatment, we’re now able to assess wounds more accurately, recognize wound-related problems sooner, provide better interventions, and reduce morbidity.
To bring you up to date on current evidence-based wound management, this article focuses on assessing patients with chronic wounds, optimizing wound healing with effective wound-bed preparation, and selecting an appropriate dressing.
Wound chronicity and cause
Developing an appropriate plan of care hinges on conducting a thorough, accurate evaluation of both the patient and the wound. The first step is to determine whether the wound is acute or chronic.
• A chronic wound is one that fails to heal within a reasonable time—usually
• An acute wound heals more quickly, causing minimal functional loss in the part of the body with the wound.
Identifying the cause of the wound also is essential. If the wound etiology is unknown, explore the patient’s medical history (including medication history) for clues to possible causes. Also review the patient’s history for conditions that could impede wound healing. (See What factors hamper healing? by clicking the PDF icon above)
Other important aspects of assessment include evaluating the patient’s nutritional status, quantifying the level of pain (if present), and gauging the patient’s self-care abilities.
General physical appearance
Conduct a general head-to-toe physical examination, focusing on the patient’s height, weight, and skin characteristics.
Height, weight, and weight trend
On admission, the patient’s height and weight should be measured to ensure appropriate nutritional and pharmacologic management. After a weight gain or loss, various factors may complicate wound healing. For instance, involuntary weight loss and protein-energy malnutrition may occur in both acute-care and long-term-care patients.
Especially note trends in your patient’s weight. For a long-term-care patient, a 5% weight loss over 30 days or a 10% loss over 180 days is considered involuntary. Arrange for a nutritional consult for any patient with an involuntary weight loss, as adequate nutrition is essential for general well-being and wound healing. (See A wound on the mend by clicking the PDF icon above.)
Evaluate the patient’s skin color in light of ethnic background. If you note erythema—especially on a pressure point over a bony prominence—examine this area carefully for nonblanching erythema. Keep in mind that darkly pigmented skin doesn’t show such erythema and subsequent blanching, yet the patient may still be in jeopardy. So in dark-skinned patients, check for differences in skin color, temperature, or firmness compared to adjacent tissue; these differences may signify skin compromise.
Skin texture and turgor
Generally, healthy skin feels smooth and firm and has an even surface and good turgor (elasticity). To test turgor, gently grasp and pull up a fold of skin on a site such as the anterior chest below the clavicle. Does the skin return to place almost immediately after you release it, or does it stand up (“tent”)? Tenting indicates dehydration. But keep in mind that skin loses elasticity with age, so elderly patients normally have decreased turgor.
With normal circulatory status, the skin is warm and its temperature is similar bilaterally. Areas of increased warmth or coolness suggest infection or compromised circulation. Be sure to check the temperature of skin surrounding the wound.
Proper wound assessment can significantly influence patient outcome. Measure the wound carefully and document the condition of the wound bed. Remember that accurate descriptions are essential for guiding ongoing wound care. Repeat wound measurement and wound-bed assessment at least weekly, after the wound bed has been cleaned and debrided.
Keep in mind that assessing a chronic wound can be challenging. Wounds commonly have irregular shapes that can change quickly. Also, the multiple clinicians caring for the same patient may each describe the wound a bit differently.
Note the precise anatomic location of the wound, as this can influence the wound care plan. A venous ulcer on the lower leg, for instance, requires different care than an arterial ulcer in the same site or a pressure ulcer on the ischium.
Circumference and depth
Use a paper or plastic measuring device to measure wound circumference and depth in centimeters (cm) or millimeters (mm). To promote accurate assessment of healing, be sure to use the same reference points each time you measure the wound.
You can use several methods to measure circumference. The most commonly used method of measurement is done in the head to toe direction. Measure the wound at its greatest length in that direction & measure the width at a 90 degree angle, at the widest point of the wound. Then multiply these two measurements (greatest length x greatest width) to obtain the total wound area. Although such linear measurements are imprecise, they yield gross information relative to wound healing when repeated over time.
Classify wound depth as partial thickness or full thickness.
• Partial-thickness wounds are limited to the skin layers and don’t penetrate the dermis. They usually heal by reepithelialization, in which epidermal cells regenerate and cover the wound. Abrasions, lacerations, and blisters are examples of partial-thickness wounds.
• Full-thickness wounds involve tissue loss below the dermis.
(Note: Pressure ulcers usually are classified by a four-stage system and diabetic foot ulcers by a grading system. Both systems are beyond this article’s scope.)
Measure and record wound depth based on the deepest area of tissue loss. To measure depth, gently place an appropriate device (such as a foam-tipped applicator) vertically in the deepest part of the wound, and mark the applicator at the patient’s skin level. Then measure from the end of the applicator to the mark to obtain depth.
Surrounding skin and tissue
Inspect for and document any erythema, edema, or ecchymosis within 4 cm of the wound edges, and reevaluate for these signs frequently. Because compromised skin near the wound is at risk for breakdown, preventive measures may be necessary.
Appearance of wound-bed tissue
Document viable tissue in the wound bed as granulation, epithelial, muscle, or subcutaneous tissue. Granulation tissue is connective tissue containing multiple small blood vessels, which aid rapid healing of the wound bed; appearing red or pink, it commonly looks shiny and granular. Epithelial tissue consists of regenerated epidermal cells across the wound bed; it may be shiny and silvery.
Check for nonviable tissue (also called necrotic, slough, or fibrin slough tissue), which may impede wound healing. It may vary in color from black or tan to yellow, and may adhere firmly or loosely to the wound bed. (See Picturing a necrotic wound by clicking the PDF icon above.)
Be sure to document the range of colors visible throughout the wound. Identify the color that covers the largest percentage of the wound bed. This color—and its significance—guide dressing selection.
Document the amount, color, and odor of exudate (drainage) in the wound. Exudate with high protease levels and low growth factor levels may impede healing.
If the wound is covered by an occlusive dressing, assess exudate after the wound has been cleaned. Describe the amount of exudate as none, minimal, moderate, or heavy.
Describe exudate color as serous, serosanguineous, sanguineous, or purulent. Serous exudate is clear and watery, with no debris or blood present. Serosanguineous exudate is clear, watery, and tinged pink or pale red, denoting presence of blood. Sanguineous exudate is bloody, indicating active bleeding. Purulent exudate may range from yellow to green to brown or tan.
Describe wound odor as absent, faint, moderate, or strong. Note whether the odor is present only during dressing removal, if it disappears after the dressing is discarded, or if it permeates the room.
Wound edges indicate the epithelialization trend and suggest the possible cause and chronicity of the wound. The edges should attach to the wound bed. Edges that are rolled (a condition called epibole) indicate a chronic wound, in which epithelial cells are unable to adhere to a moist, healthy wound bed and can’t migrate across and resurface the wound.
Undermining and tracts
Gently probe around the wound edges and in the wound bed to check for undermining and tracts. Undermining, which may occur around the edges, presents as a space between the intact skin and wound bed (resembling a roof over part of the wound). It commonly results from shear forces in conjunction with sustained pressure. A tract, or tunnel, is a channel extending from one part of the wound through subcutaneous tissue or muscle to another part.
Measure the depth of a tract or undermining by inserting an appropriate device into the wound as far as it will go without forcing it. Then mark the skin on the outside where you can see or feel the applicator tip. Document your findings based on a clock face, with 12 o’clock representing the patient’s head and 6 o’clock denoting the feet. For instance, you might note “2.0-cm undermining from 7:00 to 9:00 position.”
Ask the patient to quantify the level of pain caused by the wound, using the pain scale designated by your facility. Find out which pain-management techniques have relieved your patient’s pain in the past; as appropriate, incorporate these into a pain-management plan. Reevaluate the patient’s pain level regularly.
An evolving science, wound-bed preparation is crucial for minimizing or removing barriers to healing. The goal is to minimize factors that impair healing and maximize the effects of wound care. The key elements of wound-bed preparation are controlling bioburden and maintaining moisture balance. (For online resources on wound-bed preparation and other wound-care topics, see Where to get more information by clicking the PDF icon above.)
Necrotic tissue and exudate harbor bacteria. A wound’s bioburden—the number of contaminating microbes—contributes to poor healing. All chronic wounds are considered contaminated or colonized, but not necessarily infected. In a colonized wound, healing is impeded as bacteria compete for nutrients; also, bacteria have harmful byproducts. To control bioburden, the wound must be cleaned and necrotic tissue must be debrided.
Cleaning the wound. Clean the wound before assessing it and applying a dressing. Use a noncytotoxic agent (typically, potable water, normal saline irrigating solution, or an appropriate wound-cleaning agent). Antiseptic solutions generally aren’t recommended for wound irrigation or dressings because they’re toxic to fibroblasts and other wound-repairing cells. If you must use such a solution, make sure it’s well diluted.
To ensure gentle cleaning or irrigation, pour solution over the wound bed or gently flush the wound with solution (using a 60-mL catheter-tip syringe) until the drainage clears. Know that pressurized irrigation techniques and whirlpool therapy aren’t recommended for wound cleaning because they disturb cell proliferation in the wound bed.
Debriding the wound. Debridement removes slough and necrotic tissue. Nonselective debridement techniques remove any type of tissue within the wound bed, whereas selective methods remove only necrotic tissue. (See Wound debridement techniques by clicking the PDF icon below.)
Maintaining moisture balance
To maintain moisture balance in the wound bed, you must manage exudate and keep the wound bed moist. The proper dressing (which may stay in place for days or longer) supports moist wound healing and exudate management. To minimize fluid pooling, a drain may be inserted into the wound. Negative-pressure wound therapy also may aid removal of excess exudate.
Choosing an appropriate dressing
The wound dressing plays a major role in maintaining moisture balance. Dressing selection is challenging because of the large number and variety of dressings available. Each product has specific actions, benefits, and drawbacks, so determining which dressing best suits the patient’s needs is a multifaceted process.
Dressing choice depends on such factors as wound type and appearance, exudate, presence or absence of pain, and required dressing change frequency. (See Dressings Options by clicking the PDF icon above.)
In a traditional dressing, gauze is applied in layers. The initial (contact) layer in the wound bed absorbs drainage and wicks it to the next layer; most often, this layer consists of woven cotton gauze or synthetic gauze. Remove the gauze gently, because it may be stuck to the wound or incision (especially if the gauze is cotton). For easier removal, moisten the dressing with normal saline solution to loosen it.
With a traditional dressing, the cover layer or secondary dressing is an abdominal pad with a “no-strike-through” layer next to the outside of the dressing. Be aware that wet-to-dry dressings are highly discouraged for their nonselective debriding effect and inability to provide a moist wound bed.
Reassess the patient’s wound at least weekly (after preparing the wound bed and dressing the wound) to determine healing progress. Keep in mind that wound-care management is a collaborative effort. Once you’ve assessed the patient, discuss your findings and subsequent wound management with other members of the team.
Wound care wisdom
Getting wiser about wound care will help your patients achieve good outcomes. Poor wound healing can be frustrating to patients, family members, and healthcare providers alike. Chronic wounds may necessitate lifestyle changes and lead to severe physical consequences ranging from infection to loss of function and even death. By performing careful assessment, tailoring patients’ wound care to wound etiology, and using evidence-based protocols to manage wounds, you can promote speedier wound healing, help lower morbidity, and improve quality of life.
Bryant RA, Nix DP. Acute and Chronic Wounds: Current Management Concepts. 4th ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 2011.
Gardener SE, Frantz R, Hillis SL, Park H, Scherubel M. Diagnostic validity of semiquantitative swab cultures. Wounds. 2007;(19)2:31-38.
Krasner DL, Rodeheaver GT, Sibbald RG. Chronic Wound Care: A Clinical Source Book for Healthcare Professionals. 4th ed. Wayne, PA: HMP Communications; 2007.
Langemo DK, Brown G. Skin fails too: acute, chronic, and end-stage skin failure. Adv Skin Wound Care. 2006;19(4):206-211.
Langemo DK, Anderson J, Hanson D, Hunter S, Thompson P. Measuring wound length, width, and area: which technique? Adv Skin Wound Care. 2008;21:42-45.
Milne C, Armand OC, Lassie M. A comparison of collagenase to hydrogel dressings in wound debridement. Wounds. 2010:22(11):270-274.
National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel and European Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel. Prevention and Treatment of Pressure Ulcers: Clinical Practice Guideline. Washington, DC: National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel; 2009.
Ovington LG. Hanging wet-to-dry dressings out to dry. Adv Skin Wound Care. 2002;15(2):79-86.
Sibbald RG, Coutts P, Woo KY. Reduction of bacterial burden and pain in chronic wounds using a new polyhexamethylene biguanide antimicrobial foam dressing—clinical trial results. Adv Skin Wound Care. 2011;24(2):78-84.
Solway DR, Consalter M, Levinson DJ. Microbial cellulose wound dressing in the treatment of skin tears in the frail elderly. Wounds. 2010:22(1):17-19.
Wound Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society. Guideline for Prevention and Management of Pressure Ulcers. Mt. Laurel, NJ: Author; 2010
Patricia A. Slachta is a Clinical Nurse Specialist at The Queens Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii and an adjunct nursing instructor at the Technical College of the Lowcountry in Beaufort, South Carolina.