I love to hate dogma. And there’s probably nothing in surgery more sacred and more ingrained than how to take care of a wound. Everybody knows that you have to keep surgical or traumatic wounds dry, and that once you can get them wet, showers are good at baths are bad. Right?
And for something as common as wound management, there must be some kind of research, right? Not so! I did quite a bit of digging through the literature since 1966 and managed to find only five papers. Here are the highlights:
- A prospective study of 100 patients were randomized to shower or bathe postoperatively. Of note, the wounds were sprayed with a clear plastic dressing before getting in the water. The was no difference in infection rates.
- Another prospective study of 100 patients with stapled incisions after spine surgery were allowed to bathe after 2 to 5 days. Compared to historical controls, there were no differences in infection rates even though the study patients had more complex operations than controls.
- A prospective randomized study of 121 patients after hernia surgery found no difference in infection between shower and dry groups
- A large randomized study of 817 patients similarly showed no difference between shower and dry groups
- Another randomized trial of 170 patients showed no difference in infections between shower after 24 hours and control groups
Get the picture? And interestingly, the few wound infections documented in any of the studies tended to occur in the dry groups, although this was not statistically significant.
Bottom line: In general, it is not harmful to get a wound wet after 24 hours. We don’t know exactly why because of the paucity of the literature, but think about it. The water that we shower or bathe in is the same water that we drink. It’s very close to sterile. When we do shower or bathe, the bacteria that come in contact with the wound are our normal skin flora, which are already in and on the wound. Plus, most incisions that have been closed are water-tight within about 24 hours. It’s more likely that using soap and water is good for you because it washes away tons of bacteria, including the pathogens!
- Prospective randomised trial of the early postoperative bathing. BMJ 19 in June 1976: 1506-1507, 1976.
- Wound care after posterior spinal surgery. Does early grading affect the rate of wound complications? Spine (Phila PA 1976) 21(18):2160-2162, 1996.
- Does a shower with postoperative wound healing at risk? Chirurg 68(7): 715-717, 1997.
- Modification of postoperative wound healing by showering. Chirurg 71(2):234-236, 2000.
- Postoperative wound healing in wound-water contact. Zentralbl Chir 125(2):157-160, 2000.
Subscribers to the TraumaMedEd newsletter will receive their copy Tuesday by email. It will be distributed via the blog on Monday, December 3.
This month’s topic is Trauma Mythbusters. I’ll be reviewing and debunking some commonly held beliefs. Some of the topics covered will include:
- Bathing and showering with wounds
- NSAIDs and fracture healing
- Cognitive rest after TBI
If you want to get your copy early, go to www.TraumaMedEd.com and sign up for a subscription now. You can also download past issues from the site.
The common teaching is that patients with traumatic subdural hematoma don’t do well. This is generally due to the presence of more direct injury to the brain compared with patients who have epidural hematoma. Outcomes data tends to bear this out. However, this data is at least 20 years old and it would be nice to know if we’ve made any progress in the management of this injury.
Harborview Medical Center retrospectively reviewed four years worth of its trauma registry data on patients with subdural hematoma. They scrutinized the usual outcomes data, looking at patients with and without surgical decompression. During the study period, clinical management routines remained basically the same.
A total of 1427 patients were included in the study. The average age was 58. Interesting facts from the study include:
- Falls were by far the most common mechanism (57%)
- Most patients (58%) had a GCS of 13 or higher
- The TRISS probability of survival was slightly lower in the evacuated group (85%) versus the non-evacuated group (91%), yet
- Mortality rate was 14%, with traumatic brain injury the most common cause of death
- 29% had positive urine toxicology testing. Marijuana was most prevalent.
- Slightly more than half were discharged home. Independence was higher in the group who had undergone evacuation of their hematoma.
Bottom line: Patients with subdural hematoma do better these days than they used to. This is probably due to better imaging (CT), which leads to earlier and more accurate management. Additionally, these injuries are now treated at regional trauma centers like Harborview, which may also improve survival.
Reference: Acute traumatic subdural hematoma: Current mortality and functional outcomes in adult patients at a Level I trauma center. J Trauma 73(5):1348-1354, 2012.
And coming next week, some interesting Trauma Mythbusters!
We use CT scanning in trauma care so much that we tend to take it (and its safety) for granted. I’ve written quite a bit about thoughtful use of radiographic studies to achieve a reasonable patient exposure to xrays. But another thing to think about is the use of IV contrast.
IV contrast is a hyperosmolar solution that contains some substance (usually an iodine compound) that is radiopaque to some degree. It has been shown to have a significant impact on short-term kidney function and in some cases can cause renal failure.
Here are some facts you need to know:
- Contrast nephrotoxicity is defined as a 25% increase in serum creatinine, usually within the first 3 days after administration
- There is usually normal urine output and minimal to no proteinuria
- In most cases, renal function returns to normal after 3-4 days
- Nephrotoxicity almost never occurs in people with normal baseline kidney function
- Large or repeated doses given within 72 hours greatly increase risk for toxicity
- Old age and pre-existing diabetic renal impairment also greatly increase risk
If you must give contrast to a patient who is at risk, make sure they are volume expanded (tough in trauma patients), or consider giving acetylcysteine or using isosmolar contrast (controversial, may still cause toxicity).
Bottom line: If you are considering contrast CT, try to get a history to see if the patient is at risk for nephrotoxicity. Also consider all of the studies that will be needed and try to consolidate your contrast dosing. For example, you can get CT chest/abdomen/pelvis and CT angio of the neck with one contrast bolus. Consider low dose contrast injection if the patient needs formal angiographic studies in the IR suite. Always think about the global needs of your patient and plan accordingly (and safely).
Reference: Contrast media and the kidney. British J Radiol 76:513-518, 2003.