How to Treat Minor Wounds and Diabetic Foot Ulcers and Knowing When to Seek Help
Accidents happen. And when the skin is broken by way of a scrape, cut, or puncture, the body immediately begins to heal the wound. Most of these minor injuries can be treated at home, if proper care is given to prevent infection and ensure healing. However, if you’ve been bitten by an animal, have an injury that bleeds excessively or won’t stop bleeding, or if the cut is deeper than a quarter inch, you should see a doctor or go to an urgent care center. In special circumstances, certain wounds do not heal well due to diabetes, cancer, surgery, poor circulation, nerve damage, bone infection, and lifestyle reasons. It is especially important to seek specialized care in these circumstances.
Treatment for Minor Cuts and Scrapes
Let’s say you’ve injured yourself: you cut your finger with a knife while making dinner or you slipped and fell, scraping your leg. Bleeding is inevitable and important, as it’s the body’s way of cleansing the area. Despite the blood and pain, treating your wound properly can promote faster recovery. Here are some tips:
1. Wash your hands. Inspect your injury and determine if you need professional care or if there is debris or foreign objects in the wound.
2. This step is probably going to hurt but irrigate the area with running water if necessary. Wash the wound with gentle soap and pat dry.
3. Apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly to the area and cover with an adhesive bandage if it is in an area that will get scraped or rubbed with clothing. Smaller cuts and abrasions can be left unbandaged.
Note: A topical antiseptic like hydrogen peroxide or an antibiotic isn’t necessary and may delay healing. If you think your injury may be prone to getting infected, an antibiotic ointment can be applied.
4. Cleanse and redress the wound daily. Inspect the area for pus, redness, and warmth. These are signs of infection, at which time you may need to see a doctor.
5. As the wound heals, be sure to wear sunscreen on and around the area to minimize scarring.
Diabetes As a Complication to Healing
Certain conditions, such as diabetes, exacerbate wound healing and increase your risk of developing diabetic foot ulcers, which can take weeks or months to heal. It is a common reason why diabetes patients end up in the hospital. Wound and foot care are essential for patients with diabetes because they are at higher risk of developing foot complications. High blood sugar levels can lead to nerve damage (neuropathy) and poor blood circulation in the feet, making them more susceptible to injuries and slower healing.
An estimated half of all people who have diabetes have some sort of nerve damage. The nerves in the feet and legs are most often affected, which can cause numbness or loss of feeling in the feet. Lack of feeling can lead to serious problems if a cut, blister, or sore is not treated. A lack of sensation and pain combined with poor blood flow mean that people with diabetes need to be especially vigilant about wound and foot care. If you develop a foot ulcer, be sure to follow wound care instructions from your provider. The treatment tips above are also relevant for wound care for people with diabetes.
Tips to Preventing Diabetic Foot Ulcers
How do you maintain healthy feet if you have diabetes? A first step is a self-care plan that includes foot care, created with your health care team. A good rule of thumb is to check your feet daily. Inspect them for any signs of wounds, blisters, redness, swelling, or other unusual irregularity; use a mirror or ask a loved one to help examine hard-to-see areas. Be sure to get your feet checked during every exam; your doctor or podiatrist will also check for feeling, extent of nerve damage, and any abnormalities. Checking your feet every day ensures you will notice any foot problems or a wound that is not healing properly. Seek appropriate medical care to catch problems early. Prompt treatment greatly reduces further complications and your risk of amputation.
Another daily task is to wash your feet with warm water and gentle soup, then pat dry. They must be kept clean and dry, especially between the toes to prevent excess moisture, which can lead to fungal infections. You can even use talcum powder between your toes to keep that area dry. After your feet are clean and dry, apply a cream or lotion to prevent dryness and keep the skin on your feet soft. Avoid putting moisturizer between your toes as you don’t want moisture to accumulate there, potentially contributing to a fungal infection.
Many diabetic patients need assistance with nail and callus care. The toenails should be trimmed carefully, straight across, and not too close to the nailbed to prevent ingrown toenails, which can lead to infection. If your doctor tells you to, use a pumice stone to smooth corns and calluses. The goal is to smooth the skin, not cut or damage the skin.
Never go barefoot, even inside, to avoid injury. Wear slippers when you’re inside, not just socks. Well-fitting shoes made of leather, suede, or canvas and breathable socks allow for air circulation and are the best options for daily wear. Change your socks every day and avoid tight or pointed shoes that can cause pressure points and restrict blood flow. Diabetic foot ulcers are partly caused by too much pressure on one part of your foot so in this case, you may even need to wear special shoes, a brace, or a cast.
How do you keep blood circulating to your feet? Wiggle your toes for a few minutes throughout the day and put your feet up when you’re sitting. Exercise is also important for blood flow, although stay conscious of feet-friendly activities and stay on smooth surfaces. You can always ask your doctor about which activities are best for your activity level, age, limitations, and which you should avoid. The Centers for Disease Control has a helpful infographic below with all the tips mentioned.
More Information to Think About
In someone with diabetes, lifestyle also affects wound healing. A healthy diet, taking medications as prescribed, and avoiding smoking promote blood circulation and general health in all people, really. But keeping blood sugar levels under control is also key as high levels impair wound healing and increase the risk of infections, as does smoking. It may seem like a lot, but with the help of your healthcare team and a proactive attitude, people with diabetes can lead long and active lives.