Summertime can ratchet up the number of wound injuries. It's the nature of the beast. More of us are busy outside, and let’s face it—accidents happen. Most of these are not life threatening and are successfully treated with stitches, bandages and antibiotics. And while most of us will heal with little difficulty, some people may need specialized wound care.
As we age, healing can become more difficult for our bodies. The older we get, the thinner our skin gets. Collagen, a protein that gives our skin strength, begins to diminish. Elastin, another protein in connective tissue that is, like its name implies, elastic and allows many tissues in the body to resume their shape after they stretch or contract is lessened. With age, skin may also bruise more easily, due to loss of support around blood vessel walls. Swelling can lead to increased drainage and slows down the natural healing process. Cells in our skin start to die out and much more time is needed for new cells to develop.
A skin wound that fails to heal, heals slowly or heals but tends to recur is known as a chronic wound. Some of the causes of chronic skin wounds include trauma, burns, radiation, skin cancers or medical conditions such as diabetes. Chronic wounds need special care.
What works?
As a vascular surgeon, I see many chronic wounds. Legs are very common places for wounds to develop. The first step is to make sure there is good blood flow to the extremity affected. This may require compression bandages, hyperbaric oxygen treatment or even surgery. It's important to get to the bottom of what may be causing or contributing to a chronic wound, such as diabetes.
Check your wound regularly. You should see your doctor if you have any symptoms such as:
n Bleeding
n Increasing pain
n Pus or discharge from the wound
n Fever
As our skin is so important to healing wounds, take steps to take great care of it. Limit the amount of time you spend in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more. Also, wear clothing to cover skin exposed to the sun, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses. Over time, ultraviolet (UV) light damages our elastin. And though sun damage may not show up when you're young, it will later in life. Smoking also ravages collagen, every bit as much as UV from the sun.
Dry skin and itching is common in later life. This can result from overheated indoor air, the loss of oil glands with age and anything drying (such as overusing soaps or bathing in hot water). It helps to use moisturizers, eat properly and get exercise as you age. You'll make your skin's job a lot easier.
Remember, the longer wounds remain open, the longer it takes for them to heal.. Our goal is healing chronic wounds within 16 weeks, however many heal much faster. This takes a team effort which includes the patient, their doctors and nurses. Cooperation may be the most important factor-and sometimes the biggest roadblock in healing.
Choosing the right center for treatment is important. The Center for Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine at St. Mary’s is accredited by the Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society and has been named a Center of Distinction because of its higher-than-average healing rate and patient satisfaction scores.
For more information on the Center for Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine, call 816-655-5780.
Scott Kujath, MD, FACS, is medical director of the Center for Wound Care at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Blue Springs.