Incision Care after Surgery
Proper care of your incisions is very important to prevent infection and minimize scarring. Most patients have laparoscopic incisions — several small incisions approximately half an inch in length — which are common with minimally invasive procedures. A small minority of patients have “open” procedures, with full-length incisions.
Small incisions are often closed with surgical glue or small adhesive bandages, rather than sutures. In some cases, if the incision is in an area where there might be a great deal of movement of the skin, or the incision may have tension placed upon it, a small number of staples or sutures may be placed to provide extra support. Larger incisions are typically closed with staples, then covered with a sterile bandage.
While you are in the hospital, the nursing staff will help care for your incisions. You may not want to look at your incisions, but watching as nurses provide wound care will help when you return home, because you can observe how they treat the incision and do the same. You will also know how your incisions looked in the hospital, so you aren't left wondering if they look the same as when the nurses said you were healing normally.
One of the most important things you can do to protect your incision is to always wash your hands before touching it. This will help prevent your hands from contaminating your incision as long as you wash your hands thoroughly, scrubbing with soap for at least thirty seconds.
Inspecting Your Incision
Each day you will want to inspect your incisions. You will need to make sure each incision is clean and look for signs of infection, signs of healing, and any indications that the incision is pulling apart instead of healing. Your incision should show small signs of improvement each day or two, with the redness decreasing and the incision growing smaller as it heals.
In the first days of recovery a small amount of clear fluid may be present on the incision, and scabs are normal during the healing process, but there should be no bloody drainage or pus coming from the incision. If the incision appears to be pulling apart, or if there is abnormal drainage present, notify your surgeon.
Cleaning Your Incision
The easiest way to clean your incision each day is to do it in the shower. Using a gentle antibacterial soap, lather and rinse the area as you would any other area of your body. Do not scrub the area to remove scabs or the adhesive bandages; both should be allowed to fall off on their own. If the adhesive bandages are still in place fourteen days after surgery and your wound has completely closed, they can be peeled off gently while in the shower, or your physician can remove them at your follow-up appointment.
Resist the temptation to use harsh solutions such as peroxide and alcohol, which will dry out the incision and can lead to irritation. Lotions, ointments, and powders should also be avoided, including antibacterial ointments used for cuts and scrapes, unless your surgeon specifically instructs you otherwise.
If you have sutures or staples, you will want to make sure that they are still in place and holding the incision firmly closed. Do not attempt to clean the individual staples or sutures: Focus on keeping the wound itself clean rather than what is keeping the wound closed.
Scars and Incisions
If you are concerned about scars from your surgery there are several things that can help minimize the lasting effects on your skin. Preventing infection is one of the best ways to minimize the scars: An infection slows healing and can result in much more severe scarring than would be present otherwise. Refrain from picking at or scrubbing the incision and any scabs that may be present.
Minimizing exposure to the sun is also helpful in reducing how noticeable the incisions will be. Keep them covered or apply sunscreen once they are fully healed, to prevent sun damage to the area.
One of the best ways to prevent scarring is to stop smoking. Smoking slows healing significantly and has been shown to increase scarring. Stopping smoking at least two weeks prior to surgery will not only reduce your risk of scarring, it will also reduce your risk of serious complications such as blood clots and pneumonia.
There are over-the-counter medications available to reduce the appearance of scars, but they should not be used until the incision closes completely. If you have a history of scarring badly and are concerned about further scarring, discuss the situation with your physician. There are prescription medications and treatments available to minimize and prevent scars after surgery.