Bed sores are often associated with poor care for elderly and infirm persons, typically at long-term care facilities like nursing homes. If left untreated, they can become a serious health problem and may require extensive and painful surgery.
Note a few facts about these sores and what causes them so you can ensure you reduce your risk or the risk of those who may be under your care.
What They Really Are
While the medical term for these sores is decubitus ulcer, pressure sores is typically what they’re called because they are the result of constant pressure being put on the skin, which in turn ruptures or tears. They typically happen in areas where bones press against the skin such as the hips, ankles, back, and buttocks. They are commonly found in patients who are bedridden or confined to a wheelchair because of the person’s inability to move and change position, so their skin is constantly pressed and chafed, eventually resulting in an open wound.
What are the stages of bed sores?
One interesting fact about pressure sores is that they occur in stages, so a vigilant caregiver should be able to spot signs of their development early on.
In the first stage of bed sores, there is discoloration of the skin, usually a red area or something dark and purple that resembles a bruise.
In the second stage the skin will be open but the ulcer is not very deep, and in the third stage the ulcer is deeper and more pronounced. Pus may form in the third stage.
In the fourth stage the wound is very deep and may even reach muscle and bone. Once this last stage is reached the sore may become untreatable and the entire area needs to be cut off and removed by surgery.
Prevention and treatment options for pressure sores
Prevention is the best treatment for these ulcers; any bedridden patient should be turned every two hours at the most so they aren’t putting undue pressure on any one part of the skin. Wheelchair-bound patients may need special cushions that take pressure off the buttocks and backs. Once bed sores do develop, immediate treatment is necessary.
Antibiotics may be prescribed so as to avoid infection in the open wound. Topical creams may be applied to help protect the open skin and alleviate pain; these should be products made specifically for wounds and not hand creams, as these contain chemicals that could irritate an open sore.
For ulcers in the second stage where the skin has broken open but is not yet very deep, aloe creams or vitamin E oil can keep the skin hydrated and help speed healing. A fresh dressing over the wound should also be applied every two hours.
Because these skin ulcers are so serious, it’s important they be prevented if possible and then treated immediately if they do develop. Surgery to remove deep skin ulcers typically involves cutting away at the muscle and ligaments under the skin and can leave a patient virtually immobile, so be aware of their appearance and treatment options while still in their early stages.
If you or someone you know has to be bed-bound for any length of time, make sure you take care not to develop a decubitus ulcer. Nurses are typically aware of the possibility of developing this issue but it can’t hurt to mention it to be sure it doesn’t become an issue. Hopefully you won’t experience them at all but if you do, as long as they are caught early they can be treated effectively.
If they are allowed to enter the later stages that is when they can present a real problem for you.