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It is estimated that two to five percent of surgical incisions become infected in patients undergoing surgery in the United States. Knowing more about the healing process for these incisions and the recommended aftercare guidelines is imperative to reduce the risk of infection.

Wound Healing

Surgical incisions will heal in stages. The larger the incision, the longer it can take to heal. During the first stage, the blood will begin to clot. You will notice a scab forming and you should leave this in place because it helps to prevent germs from getting to the underlying tissue. White blood cells go to work to help fight against infection-causing germs. Broken blood vessels are repaired by the body and the growth of new tissue begins. Eventually, the scabs will fall off and a scar starts to form as the wounded area becomes stronger.

Wound Cleaning

Wash your hands and put on a clean pair of medical gloves. Use mild soapy water or normal saline solution to cleanse the wound. Soak a clean piece of sterile gauze in your preferred solution and gently wipe the incision and the surrounding area. Make sure that any dried blood or drainage is completely removed, but do not remove any scabs. Take a different piece of sterile gauze that is dry to remove all of the excess moisture before applying a fresh bandage.

Dressing Replacement

A surgical incision may need to stay covered for a set period of time to protect it, so patients will have to properly take care of applying a fresh dressing per their surgeon’s instructions. In most cases, sterile gauze is used for a dressing. To start the process, wash your hands completely using soap and water. Use medical gloves to remove and properly dispose of the old dressing. Cleanse the incision site per the instructions stated above. Make sure to inspect the wound for the signs of infection which may include:

  • Fever
  • Increased or continual pain at the site
  • Swelling or redness at the site
  • Cloudy, foul-smelling or green fluid drainage at the site
  • The incision site is hot to the touch

As long as everything looks good, place the new dressing over the incision. Use medical tape to secure it into place. Never reuse an old dressing. Wash your hands after completing the process.

Patients should always follow the full aftercare instructions provided by their surgeon. While this does not guarantee infection prevention, it can reduce the overall risk.