An incision is a cut through the skin that is made during surgery. It is also called a surgical wound. Some incisions are small and others are long. The size of the incision depends on the kind of surgery you had.
Do not wear tight clothing that rubs against the incision while it is healing.
Sometimes, an incision breaks open. This may happen along the entire cut or just part of it. Your doctor may decide not to close it again with sutures (stitches).
If your doctor does not close your wound again with sutures, you need to care for it at home, since it may take time to heal. The wound will heal from the bottom to the top. A dressing helps absorb drainage and keep the skin from closing before the wound underneath fills in.
It is important to clean your hands before you change your dressing. You may use an alcohol-based cleanser. Or you may wash your hands using these steps:
Your doctor or nurse will tell you how often to change your dressing. To prepare for the dressing change:
Remove the old dressing:
You may use a gauze pad or soft cloth to clean the skin around your wound:
Your doctor may also ask you to irrigate, or wash out, your wound:
Do not put any lotion, cream, or herbal remedies on or around your wound without asking your doctor first.
Place the clean dressing on the wound as your doctor or nurse taught you to. You may be using a wet-to-dry dressing.
Clean your hands when you are finished.
Throw away the old dressing and other used supplies in a waterproof plastic bag. Close it tightly, then double it before putting it in the trash.
Wash any soiled laundry from the dressing change separately from other laundry. Ask your doctor if you need to add bleach to the wash water.
Use a dressing only once. Never reuse it.
Call your doctor if any of these changes occur around the incision:
Surgical incision care; Open wound care
Lynn PB. Cleaning a wound and applying a dry, sterile dressing. In: Lynn PB. Taylor’s Handbook of Nursing Skills. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, Wolters Kluwers. 2011.
Updated by: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, General Surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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