How to Prevent Cuts From Getting Infected

If you don't take care of a cut properly, you are at risk for several wound infections.
If you don't take care of a cut properly, you are at risk for several wound infections.
John Molloy/Getty Images

A battle occurs in your body every time you get a wound. Harmful germs face off against your body's defenders -- the white blood cells. When the attacking germs get the upper hand, a mild cut can turn into a more sinister infection. In this article, we will discuss three different types of wound infections: abscesses, cellulitis, and lymphangitis. Here's a preview:

  • Preventing Abscesses Skin and tooth abscesses happen when the body is fighting off an infection -- a pocket of pus forms around the infection site, creating the abscess. This can be treated by antibiotics or by lancing and draining the pus. Good hygiene is key to warding off abscesses, wherever they might be.
  • Preventing Cellulitis If you have a cut, burn, or other break in your skin, you could be at risk for cellulitis. This infection occurs when bacteria finds it way into the skin through a wound or skin condition. The infected area can swell, turn red, and become tender and painful. Cellulitis is generally treated with antibiotics and causes no long-term complications.
  • Preventing LymphangitisLymphangitis occurs when bacteria infect the lymphatic vessels and make their way to the lymph nodes. Lymphangitis is usually a complication related to a skin abscess or cellulitis. Symptoms of lymphangitis can include chills, fever, rapid heartbeat, headache, and red streaks at the infected area.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Abscesses

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Skin abscesses happen when a wound allows germs to breach the skin.

Bacteria usually cause abscesses, but other microorganisms, such as parasites and fungi, can also be to blame.

Abscess Information

If a harmful invader sets up camp somewhere on your body, the immune system mounts a defense by sending white blood cells, the body's main infection-fighting cells, into the area. The white blood cells surround intruders, keeping them from damaging nearby tissues or organs. As the white blood cells build their protective walls, pus (a collection of fluid, white blood cells, dead tissue, and the enemy organisms) forms. This mass of debris is the abscess.

How you develop an abscess depends on its location. Skin abscesses can form from cuts, punctures, or other skin problems that allow germs to breach the skin. Tooth abscesses typically form when gum disease or a cavity goes untreated. Other abscesses form anywhere enemy invaders collect and white blood cells move to attack.

Skin abscesses are one of the most common types of abscesses. The area around a skin abscess will be hot to the touch, tender, swollen, and red. Tooth abscesses are also fairly common. With one of these, you'll experience pain, swelling of the gums and jaw, and, probably, fever. Other sites of abscesses include the lungs, liver, brain, spinal cord, rectum, and vaginal area (Bartholin's abscess).

Skin abscesses are primarily treated with drainage (lancing); antibiotics play a secondary role (when appropriate). Deeper abscesses are treated with antibiotics, but surgical drainage may also be necessary. Severe complications arise when germs from the abscess spread to surrounding tissue.

Who's at Risk for an Abscess?

Anyone is at risk for an abscess.

Defensive Measures Against Abscesses

Averting an abscess really depends on where the abscess is located, but in general, healthy living and good hygiene are paramount. To avoid skin abscesses, be sure to properly clean wounds and boils and use an antibacterial or antimicrobial ointment when treating any skin abrasions. To prevent tooth abscesses, brush and floss every day, get regular dental checkups, and avoid cavity-causers, such as sugar-filled foods and drinks.

Cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection, starts in the outer layers of skin but can work its way to underlying tissue and the bloodstream. Go to the next page to learn about treating and preventing cellulitis.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Cellulitis

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Insect bites can also get infected  and lead to cellulitis.

Bacteria, most commonly Staphylococcus and Streptococcus, cause cellulitis. This type of infection is quite common, and most people recover without complications.

Cellulitis Infection Information

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin brought on by injury (a cut, burn, or insect bite) or by a skin condition, such as eczema, skin ulcer, or athlete's foot. The infection starts at the outermost layer of skin but may head to underlying tissue and the bloodstream. The infected area (most often on the arms, legs, or face) will swell, turn red, and become tender and painful. Cellulitis is treated with antibiotics, and most people recover with no complications.

Who's at Risk for Cellulitis?

Anyone with an abrasion, wound, or other break in the skin can develop cellulitis, but older people; those with weakened immune systems; and those with conditions that inhibit healing and circulation, such as diabetes and peripheral arterial disease, are at higher risk. People who retain fluid because of edema, those who have surgery that could result in slow lymphatic drainage (the lymph nodes hold the bacteria-fighting white blood cells), people who undergo liposuction or other plastic surgery procedures, and intravenous drug users are also at higher risk.

Defensive Measures Against Cellulitis

Be sure to keep any open wound clean and dry and use an antibacterial or antimicrobial ointment. If you have a condition that puts you at higher risk for cellulitis, be extra diligent about protecting any open wounds and follow your physician's orders for properly caring for your condition. Finally, if you are going to handle fish, meat, poultry, soil, or any other potentially bacteria-laden items and you have an open wound, be sure to wear protective gloves.

Lymphangitis, a bacterial infection, happens when bacteria enter your body through a wound and travel to the lymph nodes. Keep reading to learn more about this infection, which can cause chills, fever, rapid heartbeat, and headache.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Preventing Lymphangitis

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. People who have cellulitis or a skin abscess are at increased risk for lymphangitis.

Bacteria, most commonly Streptococcus, are to blame for lymphangitis. This infection is usually a complication of an abscess or cellulitis.

Lymphangitis Infection Information

Lymphangitis is a bacterial infection of the lymphatic vessels, which work with the lymph nodes to set your body's immune system to work. Potentially harmful bacteria enter your body through a wound and travel to the lymph nodes via the lymph vessels; the lymph nodes then send out the white blood cell cavalry. But when invading bacteria overwhelm the vessels that connect your lymph nodes, or when the lymph vessels simply aren't able to mount a defense, they become infected, and you get lymphangitis. The condition is typically a complication of cellulitis or a skin abscess and is not the same thing as "blood poisoning," or bacteremia, which is when there are bacteria in the blood.

Symptoms of lymphangitis include chills, fever, rapid heartbeat, and headache, but the telltale signs are red streaks that are warm and tender to the touch and appear underneath the skin in the infected area. The infection can spread to the lymph nodes and cause lymphadenitis. Most people recover completely after a round of antibiotics.

Who's at Risk for Lymphangitis?

People who have, or are at higher risk for developing, cellulitis or a skin abscess are at increased risk for lymphangitis. Some dog and cat bites can cause the condition, so those who spend time with furry friends are more susceptible. In addition, some wounds sustained in freshwater environments can lead to lymphangitis, so you have a greater chance of running into this infection if you spend a lot of time at a lake.

Defensive Measures Against Lymphangitis

Following the tips for preventing cellulitis and skin abscesses will help protect you from lymphangitis. You also should be thorough when cleaning animal bite wounds, and be sure to use an antibacterial ointment.

Wound infections can be painful, but in many cases these infections can be avoided by using common sense and good hygiene. Use this information to keep your cuts and scrapes infection-free.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Michele Price Mann is a freelance writer who has written for such publications as Weight Watchers magazine and Southern Living magazine. Mann formerly was an assistant health and fitness editor at Cooking Light magazine.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.