Incision Care after Surgery

Taking care of your surgical incision after you go home from the hospital can help you promote proper healing and prevent an infection. There are many types of surgical wounds that could become infected, in particular cesarean surgical incision play a vital part in women health. Here’s a guideline on how to take care of surgical incision after surgery and how to recover quickly.

OPEN OR CLOSED?

When you have an operation (“surgery”), your doctor makes a cut through your skin and the underlying tissues. This cut is called an incision. Many times, the incision is closed using sutures (“stitches”), staples or small pieces of tape (often called “steri-strips”). Other times, the incision is left open to heal on its own. Both types of incisions are common. Let’s look at how to care for your open or closed incision.

BASIC INCISION CARE

Whether your incision is closed or open, you’ll need to follow some basic procedures to care for yourself at home.

  • Wash and dry your hands thoroughly before touching your incision.
  • Follow your health care provider’s written instructions for incision care.
  • Watch your incision for signs of infection or the unexpected opening of a closed incision (this is called “dehiscence”)
  • Monitor your overall health for signs of infection, such as a fever over 101F; call your health care provider if you believe an infection is developing

CARING FOR AN OPEN INCISION

If your doctor left your incision open to heal on its own, the incision will be covered with some type of dressing. You should receive instructions about how and when to change the dressing. In general, you may use these steps to care for an open incision:

  • Gather all your supplies and place them in a handy location before you begin.
  • Thoroughly wash and dry your hands with an antibacterial soap.
  • Put on clean medical gloves. They do not need to be sterile gloves.
  • Gently remove the dressing and throw it away. If the dressing sticks to the wound, you may soften it using saline solution. Do not pull the dressing off dry skin unless your health care provider told you it was OK.
  • Remove your gloves and wash your hand again before continuing.
  • Using a piece of sterile gauze dipped in plain water with mild soap (or just plain saline solution provided by your doctor), gently clean around the edges of the wound. Do not scrub the wound bed. Try to remove any adhesive residue from tape used to secure the old dressing.
  • Apply any ointment or cream as directed by your health care provider. If you were not told to apply any ointment or cream, then do not do so. Do not apply any home remedies or herbal preparations to the wound bed or edges.
  • Place a clean dressing over the wound. You may have been instructed to dampen the bandage before applying it. This is called a “wet-to-dry” dressing. Otherwise, just place the bandage material over the wound and tape it down or secure it some other way.
  • While you still have gloves on, discard the cleansing solution, old bandage and the gloves you’re wearing. Then wash your hands a final time.

CARING FOR A CLOSED INCISION

Surgical incision care depends on the type of closure used. Here are some general guidelines for common incision closures:

  • Wash your hands before touching your incision.
  • Sutures, staples and steri-strips generally do not require a bandage to be placed over them. If you have been instructed to apply antibiotic ointment to the incision, ask your health care provider if it is acceptable to use a light covering over the wound to keep the ointment from getting on your clothes.
  • It’s usually OK to get sutures, staples and steri-strips wet. Unless you’ve been told otherwise, you can shower as normal and gently pat the incision dry.
  • For incisions closed with sutures or staples, your provider may instruct you to cover the closed incision with a thin layer of antibiotic ointment. Do so after you’ve showered or otherwise gently cleansed the incision line.
  • Do not apply any antibiotic ointment to incisions closed with steri-strips.
  • Do not apply lotions, home remedies or herbal preparations to any surgical incision.
  • If the incision is in your hair, be careful not to snag a suture or staple with your comb or brush and pull it out.
  • Sutures in the skin normally must be removed. After removal, you may shower as normal and pat the incision dry. Do not use lotions or creams of any kind on the incision after suture removal for at least five days.
  • Steri-strips are designed to fall off on their own beginning about 10 days after your operation. If the steri-strips do not come off on their own, you may gently peel them off in the shower after two weeks.

WHAT TO DO IF YOUR INCISION COMES APART

It is not at all uncommon for a suture to come loose or fall out. If this happens, your incision may start to come apart. This is called “dehiscence.” Do not panic in this situation. The sutures in your skin represent only one of many layers of sutures holding your incision closed.If your wound begins to dehisce, call your surgeon’s office for instructions on what to do. Generally speaking, incision dehiscence is not a big deal.

WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR ABOUT YOUR INCISION

It’s rare for a surgical incision to become infected, thanks to sterile operating room protocols. Many people mistake the fluids produced by normal wound healing for “pus” or infection. It is normal and common for your incision to:

  • Be painful
  • Be red
  • Be slightly inflamed for the first few days
  • Be numb along the incision line
  • Produce clear or yellowish, sticky fluid
  • Ooze blood for a few days

True signs of an infected incision include:

  • Fever over 101F in an adult
  • Flu-like symptoms, including nausea and vomiting, that occur seven to 10 days after the operation
  • An isolated area of swelling or bulging along the incision line
  • Foul-smelling discharge from a bulging area
  • Hot, red skin rash that darts out in all directions from a central point along the incision line

It takes several days for an infection to develop. If you have symptoms within the first three or four days of your surgery, chances are you do not have an infection. Continue to monitor your symptoms and contact your surgeon’s office if you start feeling worse.

OTHER TYPES OF INCISION CARE AFTER SURGERY

Because of the many types of incisions used for various surgeries, this article presents only a brief guide to incision care. If you have been sent home with a vacuum device, external fixation rods protruding from your skin or some other type of surgical wound not covered here, be sure to follow your surgeon’s instructions on how to care for your incision at home.