This year, we are bombarded with the overwhelming statistics of how many are afflicted, how to minimize our chances of acquiring it, and if stricken, how to protect ourselves from its more serious effects. The CDC stated that there have been almost 12,000 influenza-related hospitalizations since October. Every year, from 5-20% of the population gets the flu.
The Centers for Disease Control tell us to do 3 things to help prevent the spread of the virus and mitigate the severity of new cases:
- Get vaccinated: use prevention
- Stop the spread by washing your hands with soap and water, avoiding contact with sick people, and staying home from work when you are sick, and
- If you DO get sick, check with your doctor for antiviral prescriptive drugs to lessen the impact of a severe flu and speed recovery.
What about wounds? How can recovery be optimized for healing?
Although it is hard to get accurate data regarding the prevalence of chronic wounds, a review by Frykberg, et al from 2015 estimates approximately 5.7million people (2% of the US population) are dealing with chronic wounds. Many more are at risk given the rise in those with medical and lifestyle associated risk factors. Chances are that you know someone who has or will have skin breakdown of some sort. Perhaps you yourself are faced with this now.
Assuming that you are getting professional help for deciding the topical and systemic care for one’s wound and its causes, here are 4 things to do to limit the severity of wounds and promote good healing.
1) KEEP THE WOUND CLEAN
All wounds need to be free of debris and infection in order to heal. This means having good hygiene in and around the wound. One of the skin’s most important functions is to protect against bacteria. When a wound is present, that barrier is removed and bacteria can enter the body. Most importantly, WASH YOUR HANDS before and after you are changing the wound dressing. WEAR GLOVES when changing the dressing. While both of these things are important, it is most important to stop the spread of germs by washing your hands. Think of all the places your hands have been before they get to your wound: in the car, the store, the bathroom, touching the doorknobs, the keyboards, your PHONE, the gas pump, the railings, removing your shoe and all of its lovely things it may have stepped on wherever you have been: ALL these places have bacteria on them that you will transfer to your wound if you do not wash your hands. Hmmm, sounds a lot like how to prevent the spread of the flu virus!
2) PROTECT THE WOUND FROM TRAUMA
Your wound may have been caused by some sort of trauma such as a bite, a scratch, a bump or a laceration; or it may have been caused by pressure or a medical condition that has put your skin at risk. Whatever the origin, the wound now needs to be put in a protective environment. Friction, shearing, and direct pressure MUST be avoided in order to let the tissue repair itself. When pulling on and off shoes or garments, take care not to create pressure over heel ulcers or surgical wounds or incisions. A wound is trying to form new tissue, so any trauma to the edges or surface of the wound will stall the progress. Think of trying to grow new grass and having Fido continually stomp over the new seedlings as they are trying to take hold. Either Fido or the grass has to go!
Wounds that are over joints or areas of frequent pressure (like the bottom of the foot or back of heels) may need special devices to keep the impact of pressure and movement to a minimum to allow the wound to heal.
One thing to remember: special footwear and devices for reducing pressure are to be worn at ALL times weight bearing: not just when going out of the house. Unless you are on special assignment for NASA, your home environment has just as much effects of gravity as outside the home.
3) KEEP THE TEMPERATURE OF A WOUND IN A NORMAL RANGE
Another important function of the skin is to regulate temperature. When skin is gone, the tissue temperature drops and the important cell function in tissue repair is slowed down. Many of the wound dressings today act as skin in that they assist in thermo-regulation. This also happens when leaving a wound open to air: the temperature of the wound can drop to suboptimal levels, tissue dries out and healing stalls.
Being too cold also leads to vasoconstriction of blood vessels and reduction in blood flow as the body struggles to keep its core warm. Especially in cold weather, layer up to keep body and limbs warm.
Beware! There is one hidden way where too many layers can make a limb cold: if socks or shoes or gloves are too tight, they can restrict blood flow and movement. It is best to allow a bit of air movement in between layers and not pull clothing too tightly around a limb or digits, especially in those who do not have good sensation.
4) PRACTICE GOOD HABITS
A healthier host means a healthier wound. Practice good habits that maximize oxygen delivery to your wound.
- Stop smoking and minimize being around second hand smoke (any kind of smoking).
- Exercise daily with guidance from your health professional if needed. Moving your limbs means that oxygen and nutrients are delivered more effectively to your tissues as the muscles around them ask for energy. More oxygen and nutrients means more blood vessels can be formed for better healing.
- Eat nutrient rich foods that can boost your immune system and drink plenty of fluids to support good blood volume. Studies have found that nearly 75% of Americans may be in a chronically dehydrated state due to not drinking enough water per day. Poor hydration leads to many effects that include fatigue, compromised immune function, foggy thinking, and skin fragility.
This little gal has great skin,
and is REALLY enjoying
a water-rich snack.
Best wishes for sailing through the rest of the flu season with healthy habits and good healing!
This blog post was written by Robin Carlson, PT CWS
What is PT CWS? Physical Therapist and Certified Wound Specialist