An open wound is any internal or external injury that leaves internal tissue exposed to the external environment. People can sometimes treat acute open wounds at home with medications and natural remedies.

However, people should seek immediate medical attention for severe wounds that involve significant bleeding or broken bones.

Wounds fall into two broad categories: open or closed.

In a closed wound, tissue damage and bleeding occur under the surface of the skin. Examples of closed wounds include bruises.

An open wound involves a break in the skin that leaves the internal tissue exposed. Open wounds may result from falls, blunt trauma, and surgery.

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We will cover several types of open wound, as well as how to treat them, in more detail below.

Types

Some examples of open wounds include the following.

Abrasion

An abrasion wound occurs when the skin rubs or slides against a rough surface. Examples of abrasions include a scraped knee or road rash.

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Although abrasions produce very little blood, it is important to sanitize the wound and remove any debris to prevent infection.

Laceration

A laceration is a deep opening or a tear in the skin. Lacerations usually occur from accidents or incidents involving knives, machinery, or other sharp tools. This type of wound may cause significant bleeding.

Avulsion

An avulsion involves forcefully tearing away the skin and underlying tissue.

Avulsions can result from violent incidents, such as explosions, animal attacks, or motor vehicle accidents.

Puncture

A puncture wound is a small hole in the soft tissue. Splinters and needles can cause acute puncture wounds that only affect the outer layers of tissue.

However, knife or gunshot wounds can damage deep muscles and internal organs, which may result in significant bleeding.

Incision

An incision is a clean, straight cut in the skin. Many surgical procedures use incisions. However, accidents involving knives, razor blades, broken glass, and other sharp objects can cause incisions.

Incisions usually cause heavy, rapid bleeding. Deep incisions can damage the muscles or nerves and will most likely require stitches.

Treatments

Person having dressing gauze bandage applied to open wound by gloved hands
Dressing the wound with bandages can help promote healing.

Minor, or acute, open wounds may not require medical treatment. People can treat these types of wound at home.

However, severe open wounds that involve significant bleeding will require immediate medical attention.

Open wound care should involve the following steps:

  • Stop the bleeding: Using a clean cloth or bandage, gently apply pressure to the wound to promote blood clotting.
  • Clean the wound: Use clean water and a saline solution to flush away any debris or bacteria. Once the wound looks clean, pat it dry with a clean cloth. A doctor may need to perform a surgical debridement to remove debris from severe wounds that contain dead tissue, glass, bullets, or other foreign objects.
  • Treat the wound with antibiotics: After cleaning the wound, apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment to prevent infection.
  • Close and dress the wound: Closing clean wounds helps promote faster healing. Waterproof bandages and gauze work well for minor wounds. Deep open wounds may require stitches or staples. However, leave an already infected wound open until the infection clears.
  • Routinely change the dressing: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend removing the old bandages and checking for signs of infection every 24 hours. Disinfect and dry the wound before reapplying a clean adhesive bandage or gauze. Remember to keep the wound dry while it heals.

Medications for open wounds

People can take over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications to reduce inflammation and painful symptoms during the healing process. Avoid aspirin, however, as it can cause bleeding and delay the wound healing process.

A healthcare provider may prescribe stronger pain relievers for people with severe or infected wounds.

People can use topical antibiotics on minor cuts and scrapes. A healthcare professional may prescribe oral antibiotics if they believe that someone has a high risk of developing an infection while healing.

Home remedies

People can use the following home remedies to treat minor open wounds, such as cuts and scrapes.

Turmeric paste

A compound in turmeric called curcumin possesses potent anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, which may enhance wound healing.

One 2017 study examined the healing properties of turmeric in 178 people with dry socket, which is a common infection that develops after tooth extraction.

The participants receiving treatment with turmeric reported reductions in pain, swelling, and tissue necrosis within 2 days.

People can make a paste by mixing turmeric with warm water. Gently apply the paste to the wound and cover with a bandage or gauze.

Aloe vera

Aloe vera belongs to the cactus family. The leaves of the aloe vera plant contain a gel-like substance rich in minerals and vitamins, which promote wound healing.

According to a 2019 systematic review of 23 studies, aloe vera contains the compound glucomannan, which promotes cellular regeneration and collagen production. Collagen is an essential protein that promotes wound healing.

Also, aloe vera may help reduce inflammation, prevent ulcers, and enhance skin integrity.

Apply a thin layer of aloe vera gel to the area or dress the wound in a bandage soaked in aloe vera gel.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil may promote wound healing due to its high concentration of monolaurin, a fatty acid renowned for its antimicrobial effects.

Using high-quality coconut oil may help reduce the risk of infection in healing wounds.

Garlic

Garlic contains a compound called allicin, which has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. According to a 2018 rat study, an ointment containing 30% garlic promoted enhanced cellular proliferation compared with Vaseline.

Risks

An infected wound can cause fever and worsening pain.
An infected wound can cause fever and worsening pain.

Diverse groups of bacteria populate the surface of the skin, which means that open wounds require proper care and sanitation to reduce the risk of infection.

Some signs and symptoms of an infected wound include:

  • flushed, swollen, or warm skin near the wound
  • worsening pain
  • clear fluid or pus collecting in the wound
  • blisters or sores
  • fever
  • swollen lymph nodes

Infections that can develop from open wounds include:

Staph infection

Staphylococcus refers to a group of bacteria present on the skin and inside the nose.

Staphylococcus bacteria usually do not cause disease. However, they can enter the body through open wounds, resulting in a contagious condition that doctors call a staph infection.

Staph infections may remain in the skin and affect the sweat and oil glands. However, they can also spread throughout the body and affect multiple organs.

A healthcare provider can prescribe antibiotics to help fight off staph infections. However, certain Staphylococcus strains, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), resist the antibiotics that doctors typically prescribe.

Tetanus (lockjaw)

Clostridium tetani (C. tetani) can enter the body through open wounds in the skin, causing a bacterial infection called tetanus. Once inside the body, C. tetani can cause painful muscle spasms in the neck and jaw.

C. tetani exists in soil, dust, and on the outside of metal objects. For this reason, a person should seek medical attention if they receive a puncture wound from a nail or another sharp metal object.

Advances in vaccines have nearly eradicated tetanus in the United States. The CDC recommend that adults get a tetanus booster shot every 10 years.

Necrotizing fasciitis

Necrotizing fasciitis is a rare bacterial infection that kills soft tissue. Bacteria called Group A Streptococcus typically cause this infection. It develops suddenly and spreads rapidly.

Necrotizing fasciitis is a severe medical condition that requires immediate treatment. It can lead to sepsis, toxic shock syndrome, multiple organ failure, and even death.

Symptoms of necrotizing fasciitis resemble those of the flu. They can include:

  • severe pain near the wound
  • red or purple skin near the wound
  • fever
  • stomach ache
  • sore throat
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • chills
  • muscle aches

Chronic wound

A chronic wound is one that takes an unusually long time to heal or continuously reopens.

Causes of chronic wounds include severe bacterial infections, weakened immune function, and underlying health conditions. Having diabetes or cancer may increase the risk of developing chronic wounds.

Summary

Open wounds are those that leave the tissues of the body exposed to the external environment.

Open wounds can become infected from the bacterial colonies present on the skin. However, practicing proper sanitation and wound care techniques can help reduce the risk of infection and help promote faster healing.

Minor open wounds may not require medical treatment, but using OTC antibiotic ointment will help keep the wound clean. People can use turmeric, aloe vera, coconut oil, or garlic as natural treatments for minor open wounds.

Large open wounds that involve significant bleeding require immediate medical attention.

Some of the home remedies for open wounds listed in this article are available for purchase online.