Acute Wounds

An acute wound is an injury to the skin that occurs suddenly rather than over time. It heals at a predictable and expected rate according to the normal wound healing process. Acute wounds can happen anywhere on the body and vary from superficial scratches to deep wounds damaging blood vessels, nerves, muscles or other body parts.

Causes of Acute Wounds

Many actions can cause an acute wound, including:

  • Rough surfaces scraping and rubbing against the skin
  • Sharp pointed objects, such as a nail, poking or jabbing into body tissue
  • Sharp edges or blades, such as a knife, cutting the skin cleanly
  • Hard blows by any objects, tearing the tissue roughly by sheer force

Types of Acute Wounds

There are two main types of acute wounds: surgical and traumatic:

Surgical wounds are incisions made purposefully by a health care professional and are cut precisely, creating clean edges around the wound. Surgical wounds may be closed (with stitches, staples or adhesive) or left open to heal. The healing process for surgical wounds is classified by their potential for infection.

  • Clean – A clean surgical wound considered uncontaminated, likely made in an operating room or in a sterile procedure environment.
  • Contaminated – A surgical wound that was possibly contaminated with bacteria but is not yet infected.
  • Dirty – A surgical wound with a bacterial infection.

Traumatic wounds are injuries to the skin and underlying tissue caused by a force of some nature. They are classified by the object that caused the force.

  • Abrasion – A rough surface scrapes or rubs the skin, causing trauma and tearing the tissue, such as the knee scraping against asphalt.
  • Puncture – A pointed object pokes into the tissue, sometimes causing deep multi-layered trauma, such as the foot stepping on a nail.
  • Laceration – A sharp object delivers a hard blow to the tissue, resulting in a tear that can be jagged and irregular, such as bumping a leg on a table, causing a break in the skin.
  • Incision – A straight edged cut to the skin caused by a sharp blade such as cutting a finger with a knife.

Signs and Symptoms

There may be pain, swelling or bleeding at the site of an acute wound. The area of skin around the wound will be open and may appear to be jagged and torn. If the wound is infected, there may be foul smelling pus or cloudy drainage. The area around the wound may be red, swollen or tender.

Who Is at Risk

Any individual is at risk for an acute wound and, in fact, most everyone is likely to have an acute wound at some point. Highly active individuals such as toddlers and active adults are at risk for developing traumatic acute wounds – minor or severe. Individuals with fragile skin, as seen in older adults, are at risk for skin tears and abrasions.

Treatment Options for Acute Wounds

Treatment of acute wounds depends upon its location and severity. General wound care may include the following:

  • Controlling the bleeding – Identify the source of bleeding and applying pressure (if applicable) to make it stop.
  • Cleansing the wound – General soap and water may be used on minor acute wounds. Saline solutions may be used on larger, deeper or more complex wounds.
  • Debridement – If necessary, clear the wound of any debris, dirt or objects. A health care professional may remove dead tissue from the wound.
  • Dressing and/or closing the wound – Some wounds may require a health care professional to apply staples, skin adhesive, sterile strips or stitches to bring the wound edges together to close. Wounds may be left open to air or covered with dressings depending upon their location and severity.
  • Antibiotics and other medicines – In some cases, antibiotics may be prescribed to thwart off infection. This is typical in wounds with a high risk of developing infection, as in those contaminated with debris. Medications for pain, swelling and other wound specific treatments (such as a tetanus shot) may also be recommended.

Preventing Acute Wounds

Severe acute wounds can often be prevented by using general caution in daily activities. Being aware of the environment and its hazards is the first step to prevention. Prompt action should be taken for any type of acute wound to prevent infection and promote healing.

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