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Acute Wounds

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

What is an acute wound?

A wound is an injury that causes a break in the skin. An acute wound can happen suddenly, last a short time, and may heal on its own.

What causes an acute wound?

  • An abrasion is a scrape caused when a rough surface rubs against the skin.
  • A laceration is a jagged wound caused by a hard blow to the skin.
  • A puncture wound is usually made by a sharp, round, and pointed object, such as a needle or nail.
  • A cut is caused by an object with a sharp edge, such as a knife or broken glass. It is called an incision when the cut happens during surgery.

What are the signs and symptoms of an infected wound?

  • Milky, yellow, green, or brown pus in the wound
  • Red, tender, or warm area around the wound
  • Fever

How is an acute wound diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your injury. He or she will examine the injury and the area around it. He or she will check to see how deep the wound is and look for signs of infection. Your provider may check how well you can move the injured body part. He or she will check to see if you are numb at your injury site or below it. You may have either of the following:

  • A wound culture is a test of fluid or tissue used to see if your wound is infected. The wound culture will also tell your healthcare providers the cause of your infection.
  • An x-ray is a picture of your bones and tissues in the wound area. Healthcare providers use the pictures to look for broken bones, injuries, or foreign objects such as glass or metal.

How is an acute wound treated?

Treatment will depend on how severe the wound is and where it is located. It may also depend on the length of time you have had the injury. You may need any of the following:

  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children younger than 6 months without direction from a healthcare provider.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • Antibiotics may be given to prevent or treat an infection caused by bacteria.
  • Td vaccine is a booster shot used to help prevent tetanus and diphtheria. The Td booster may be given to adolescents and adults every 10 years or for certain wounds and injuries.
  • Wound care may include any of the following:
    • Cleaning and debridement is done to clean and remove objects, dirt, or dead tissues from the open wound. Your healthcare provider may use soap and water or a different solution to clean your wound. He or she may use a syringe to push the solution into all areas of your wound. The force from the syringe will help push out dirt.
    • Closure of the wound is done with stitches, staples, skin adhesive, or other treatments. This may be done if the wound is wide or deep. Some wounds may need to be packed with wet gauze for some time before closure. Some wounds may not need closure at all to heal.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have sudden trouble breathing or chest pain.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have pus or a foul odor coming from the wound.
  • Blood soaks through your bandage.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have muscle, joint, or body aches, sweating, or a fever.
  • You have increased swelling, redness, or bleeding in your wound.
  • Your skin is itchy, swollen, or you have a rash.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.