Everyone has had them. That little splinter of wood or metal in your finger that is so small you can’t see it without a magnifying glass, that turns into a little raised bump that turns red, then drives you up the wall with pain every time you hit it against something… which seems to be every two minutes or less. How could something so small hurt so much? The inflammation around the minuscule invader is what creates the shooting pain. Which leads us to the question… “Is my cut infected or just healing?”
Wounds of any sort, even the tiny splinter, can cause problems if they become infected, but in the wilderness, infections can end in a catastrophic and disabling injury. There are no Urgent Care or hospital emergency rooms in the middle of nowhere. Make sure you pack a well-organized first aid kit.
To begin let’s offer a general definition of what constitutes a wound. A wound is a damaged area of the body, usually involving a break to the skin, or caused by trauma. Traumatic wounds could be a result of falls, accidents, fights, bites or weapons. They may be cuts, lacerations, grazes, bruises, etc. Hopefully we can rule out the fight scenario, although not a 100%, but other normal possibilities of becoming wounded are with us 24 hours a day.
The wound itself could be disabling, but right now we’re dealing with smaller, “no big deal” wounds which turn ugly. It may make you squeamish, but millions of microscopic germs, bacteria, viruses and fungi live on our skin and in the environment, but normally do us no harm because we are protected by an incredibly strong barrier, a force field shall we say. However, when the skin is broken a super highway is opened for germs to enter our body and infect more sensitive tissues beneath our hard core.
Why do some wounds become infected but not others?
Our bodies are equipped with a remarkable immune system designed to detect, attack and kill any foreign invaders which intrude before they cause an issue. For the most part this defense system works marvels, but the system can be impeded from doing its job in certain situations. Some circumstances make it more likely that wounds will become infected. These may include:
If the object which caused the wound was dirty and contained germs
Wounds caused by a human or animal bite and germs got injected into the system
If the wound still contains a “foreign body”, like bits of whatever caused the injury. For example, bits of glass, splinters of wood, thorns, etc.
The size and depth of the wound. Larger or deeper wounds have a higher chance of becoming infected.
Jagged edges to the wound make sealing the wound an issue.
If you are an older person. Your skin heals less well as you get older.
If you are very overweight.
Your immune system is compromised and does not work as well as normal.
Is my cut infected or just healing?
Don’t ignore the warning signs of possible infection. If the wound is infected it won’t heal on its own. In other words it ain’t going away because you ignore it. Facts are, it will become increasing worse. You may be stranded in the wilderness, or your pilot isn’t due back for another three days, whatever, if nothing else you want to contain the infection if you can’t cure it. Look for warning signs.
Red and swollen
The wound becomes red around the edges and feels warm;
It becomes swollen;
Becomes more painful instead of less;
You begin experiencing flu-like,” I don’t feel right”, symptoms;
The wound redness and area increases in size.
Preventing Infection in traumatic wounds
Preventing infection is a better option than treating it. Let’s look at a few tips:
Clean the wound and skin around it as soon as it happens. Use cool boiled water, or drinking-quality water.
If you think there are still bits of foreign bodies in the wound, try and remove it as it will definitely cause a problem. Have it professionally cleaned out when medical attention is available.
Use an antiseptic around the wound area to help keep the germs away.
Put a clean dressing over your wound to protect it from germs. Do not use gauze or a type of dressing which will stick to the wound, because removal (changing) will re-open the wound.
Bites are very likely to become infected – seek medical advice at the earliest signs of this. If the injury is large, or there are multiple bite wounds, it may be worth having antibiotics “in case”. Seek advice straightaway in this case, rather than waiting for signs of infection to develop.
Keep a close eye on the wound and seek medical advice if you think infection is developing.
Specific Emergency First Aid Treatments
There is always a certain amount of chaos in any type of injury situation. Some people remain calm, some calm then fall apart later, and some fall apart immediately. Sometimes the brain, under stress, will recall specific memories quicker than using logic to gather and formulate the knowledge we possess into a plan of action. Based on that here are some specific injury examples and treatment to retain to memory.
Is My Cut Infected or Just Healing?
Trying to start a fire, tending a fire, cooking with fire, makes receiving a burn a typical hazard. Immediately hold the burn under cool running water or apply a wet towel, ice if available, until the pain subsides. Cover the area, which will have blister(s) with a loose bandage or gauze and tape it in place. Don’t intentionally pop the blisters, if they pop on their own, apply an antibiotic cream and re-bandage. Monitor the wound looking for any signs of redness, swelling, tenderness or discharge, all signs of infection.
The use of knives and hatchets can result in a bad aim, glancing blow, or slip which can result in a cut, usually of the hands, arms or leg. To stop the bleeding firmly press a clean cloth against the wound applying pressure for 5 to 15 minutes as required to stop the bleeding. Clean the cut under lukewarm water, use soap and clean away any dirt or debris near the wound, and pat dry. Spread a thin layer of an antibiotic ointment, over the counter is fine, over the entire wound area, then cover with a bandage and tape in place.
If the cut is deeper, you will need to pull the edges of the skin together in order for it to heal. Some first aid kits contain “butterfly stitches” which are specially cut tape bandages, but you can use strips of normal adhesive tape to pull the skin together and secure it. Continue to monitor the wound, applying a layer of new ointment and a clean bandage daily. Watch for signs of infection.
Insect Sting or Bite
Besides being painful an insect sting can quickly become deadly if the person has an allergic reaction. A hornet sting may not kill you, but from personal experience, the pain may make you wish you’d die. Locate the area of sting, there may be more than one, and determine if the stinger is still lodged in the skin. If so, use your fingernail, knife blade, credit card to gently scrape the stinger upwards until you can grab it and remove it. Place ice or a cold pack on the area to reduce swelling and pain. Mix baking soda and water into a paste and pack it onto the wound. It’ll help draw out the pain.
Accidentally popping yourself in the nose is not only embarrassing and aggravating, it can cause a nose bleed that could actually result in you becoming weak due to blood loss. Remember any event in the wild becomes much worse than at home.
Sit down, lean forward head lowered between your knees and pinch the nose close to the top of the nostrils. Hold the pressure for a few minutes to insure the bleeding has stopped. If you release too soon the bleeding may begin again. Place an ice pack or cold wet cloth across the bridge of the nose in order to reduce swelling and pain. You could end up with a couple of black eyes so don’t panic if it happens. These tidbits of information should help you answer the question, “Is my cut infected or just healing?”