Tips on caring for bed sores
How to care for pressure sores
A pressure sore is an area of the skin that breaks down when something keeps rubbing or pressing against the skin.
Pressure sores occur when there is too much pressure on the skin for too long. This reduces blood flow to the area. Without enough blood, the skin can die and a sore may form.
You are more likely to get a pressure sore if you:
- Use a wheelchair or stay in bed for a long time
- Are an older adult
- Cannot move certain parts of your body without help
- Have a disease that affects blood flow, including diabetes or vascular disease
- Have Alzheimer disease or another condition that affects your mental state
- Have fragile skin
- Cannot control your bladder or bowels
- Do not get enough nutrition
Pressure sores are grouped by the severity of symptoms. Stage I is the mildest stage. Stage IV is the worst.
- Stage I: A reddened, painful area on the skin that does not turn white when pressed. This is a sign that a pressure ulcer may be forming. The skin may be warm or cool, firm or soft.
- Stage II: The skin blisters or forms an open sore. The area around the sore may be red and irritated.
- Stage III: The skin now develops an open, sunken hole called a crater. The tissue below the skin is damaged. You may be able to see body fat in the crater.
- Stage IV: The pressure ulcer has become so deep that there is damage to the muscle and bone, and sometimes to tendons and joints.
Caring for a Pressure Sore
Stage I or II sores will often heal if cared for carefully. Stage III and IV sores are harder to treat and may take a long time to heal. Here's how to care for a pressure sore at home.
- Relieve the pressure on the area.
- Use special pillows, foam cushions, booties, or mattress pads to reduce the pressure. Some pads are water- or air-filled to help support and cushion the area. What type of cushion you use depends on your wound and whether you are in bed or in a wheelchair. Talk with your health care provider about what choices would be best for you, including what shapes and types of material.
- Change positions often. If you are in a wheelchair, try to change your position every 15 minutes. If you are in bed, you should be moved about every 2 hours.
- Care for the sore as directed by your provider. Keep the wound clean to prevent infection. Clean the sore every time you change a dressing.
- For a stage I sore, you can wash the area gently with mild soap and water. If needed, use a moisture barrier to protect the area from bodily fluids.
- Stage II pressure sores should be cleaned with a salt water (saline) rinse to remove loose, dead tissue. Or, your provider may recommend a specific cleanser.
- Do not use hydrogen peroxide or iodine cleansers. They can damage the skin.
- Keep the sore covered with a special dressing. This protects against infection and helps keep the sore moist so it can heal.
- Talk with your provider about what type of dressing to use. Depending on the size and stage of the sore, you may use a film, gauze, gel, foam, or other type of dressing.
- Most stage III and IV sores will be treated by your provider. Ask about any special instructions for home care.
- Avoid further injury or friction.
- Take care of your health.