How to Treat Infected Wounds in Children

To treat infected wounds in children, it's important to ensure good cleaning and proper use of antibiotics. We'll tell you everything you need to know about it.
How to Treat Infected Wounds in Children

Last update: 13 May, 2022

In their eagerness to explore and learn about the world around them, children are prone to suffer wounds on their skin, of different sizes and severity. And parents must be attentive to the evolution of these wounds and provide timely treatment when they become infected. In the following article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know in order to treat infected wounds in children and avoid complications. Keep reading!

Why does a wound become infected?

Skin wounds occur when the integrity of the skin tissue is lost, either by a scrape, a burn, a cut, or a puncture.

Sometimes, these injuries are limited to the superficial layer of the epidermis. But in other cases, they can extend to the soft tissues located below the dermis: Fat, muscles, tendons, or nerves.

It’s important to note that one of the main functions of the skin is to serve as the body’s protective layer, preventing the entry of harmful germs. When a wound occurs, an entryway is opened for these microorganisms, and if proper care isn’t provided, an infection can develop.

When bacteria and fungi invade the deep tissues, they not only prevent the wound from healing, but also cause more severe damage to the area. They can even spread to other parts of the body and infect several distant organs.

However, not all wounds are equally prone to infection. In general, bites, burns, or surgical wounds are the most at risk. However, small, superficial wounds that are poorly cared for can progress to an infection.

A person cleaning a wound on a child's knee.
Initial wound healing is a key factor in the proper healing process.

How to detect an infected wound

Infected wounds signify a delay in the usual healing times and are accompanied by the following cardinal symptoms:

  • Flushing: wounds usually have a red halo around them, but when this redness expands beyond the damaged area and its edges become blurred, it may suggest infection.
  • Warmth: this is produced by an increase in blood flow to the injury as a strategy of the immune system. Also, it speaks of the active working of the defense cells (leukocytes).
  • Pain: an infected wound becomes painful to the touch. After a while, it may awaken spontaneous stabbing pain and increased tissue sensitivity.
  • Edema and pus release: just as heat is produced, the arrival of more blood to the wound causes the tissue underneath to rise. It may even begin to release greenish or yellowish secretions (pus) as a result of the body’s defense. Also, a foul odor may emanate from the wound.

Failure to treat infected wounds in children quickly allows the germs to advance into the deep tissues and even into the blood. This causes a number of general symptoms as listed below:

  • Fever and chills
  • General malaise
  • Pain in the joints
  • Changes in the color of the skin or mucous membranes of the body
  • Nausea and vomiting

How to treat infected wounds in children?

The treatment of infected wounds in children is based on good hygiene, administration of antibiotics, and close monitoring of their progress.

First and foremost, the most important thing is to prevent infection, and for that, it’s important to perform the first cleaning properly. To do this, the following points should be taken into account:

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before proceeding with the treatment and, if possible, use gloves during the treatment.
  • Clean the wound with saline solution and neutral soap. If this solution isn’t available, use boiled water. If the wound has remains of soil or other organic materials, drag the residue with a sterile gauze without causing further damage. Don’t use absorbent cotton.
  • Apply a local antiseptic (alcohol 70°, chlorhexidine 2%, povidone iodine, among others). You shouldn’t use them after the first 24 to 48 hours, as they interfere with the healing process.
  • Don’t mix antiseptics, except in cases where they’re prepared in this way. Note that these substances are irritants, so the skin response to their use should be evaluated.
  • Allow the skin to air dry and only cover it when it can get dirty. To do this, use gauze or open tissue that allows the wound to air.

If there’s been no healing after 1 or 2 days, it’s important to ask for a doctor’s assessment, as it could be an early sign of infection.

Cures should be done every day, although the care schedule will depend on the type of injury and the recommendations of the specialist.

What if the wound’s infected?

When the wound presents characteristics of infection but remains localized, then you’ll only need to emphasize the procedure of daily dressings; that’s to say, to reinforce washing with a physiological solution and neutral soap and the removal of the infected and damaged tissue with the help of gauze. Then, an antiseptic ointment or antibiotic cream will be added.

When a wound’s infected, a medical evaluation is necessary to determine the severity and indicate the most appropriate pharmacological treatment according to the case.

Things to avoid when treating a child’s wound

There’s nothing more worrisome than seeing a child with a wound and this causes us to act quickly, but without attention to detail. The following practices could encourage further infection, so you should avoid them:

  • Blowing the wound, because bacteria from your mouth and saliva can infect the wound.
  • Washing the wound with soap and water and placing antiseptic over it. If the wound isn’t washed and cleaned with gauze, it may leave traces of damaged tissue or pathogenic microorganisms that can later cause infection.
  • Rubbing the wound sharply to remove dirt. This could aggravate the injury and cause a lot of pain.
  • Applying ointments or toothpaste to relieve the pain of a burn. After a burn, the tissue is exposed and more sensitive, so these types of substances increase irritation and pain. Similarly, in second-degree burns, don’t break the blisters, as this increases the risk of infection.
  • Cleaning the wound with cotton, instead of using gauze.
  • Using antibiotic or anti-inflammatory creams with corticosteroids on wounds without medical indication.
A young girl blowing on her skinned elbow.
One of the most immediate reactions after a wound occurs is to blow on it. But this isn’t recommended, as it could increase the risk of infection.

About the care of an infected wound

As we’ve seen, the infection of a wound depends on the severity of the wound, the area where it’s located, and the immune response of the child. However, a good initial healing and a good follow-up of the healing process are the keys to avoiding infection. If after a couple of days the wound doesn’t heal, it’s best to go to the doctor for assessment so they can indicate the appropriate treatment to avoid complications.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.