Scary Mommy interviewed Dr. Reena Patel to provide in-depth medical insight about how to treat a bed sore at home. Dr. Patel is a board-certified family medicine physician practicing in Orange County, NY. Dr. Patel also brings to the table the perspective of a mother.
No matter how much your heart is in it and how much you want to help, being an at-home caregiver for a parent or other loved one is tough. When someone finds out you’re an at-home caregiver, a common response is “I don’t know how you can do that.” Then they might expand a bit, marveling at how you’re able to do things like bathe the person, change their adult diapers (if applicable), treat their bed sores at home, and really, anything associated with any bathroom activities.
Sure, none of that is any picnic. But for many caregivers, those tasks pale in comparison to the difficulty of seeing your loved one struggle and require this level of care. Never underestimate the mental toll caregiving can have on all parties involved — including potential embarrassment for the person receiving the care.
Which brings us to today’s topic: bed sores. Here’s what to know about how to treat bed sores at home and prevent them from forming in the first place.
What causes bed sores?
Bed sores — also known as “pressure ulcers” and “decubitus ulcers” — are exactly what they sound like: injuries to the skin and tissue caused by periods of prolonged pressure on a particular area of the body. And contrary to popular belief, they can develop places other than the buttocks/tailbone. Basically, anywhere bony that may experience physical pressure, including:
- The shoulder blades and spine
- Backs of arms and legs where they rest against the chair
- The back or sides of the head
- The hip, lower back, or tailbone
- The heels, ankles, and skin behind the knees
According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the warning signs that bed sores may be forming include:
- Unusual changes in skin color or texture
- Pus-like draining
- An area of skin that feels cooler or warmer to the touch than other areas
- Tender areas
What does a bed sore look like?
Bedsores look different based on how infected they are and the stage it’s in. When a bed sore is in stage one, it looks like a pink or discolored mark. It may be itchy and tender to the touch. When it goes into stage two, it seems like a blister. It’s more inflamed, red, and the marks are slightly opened. And in stage three, the marks turn into deep craters that become vulnerable to infection.
What’s a typical bed sore treatment and prevention plan?
The best way to deal with someone’s bed sores is to do what you can to prevent them from forming in the first place. Here’s how Dr. Reena Patel, a board-certified family medicine physician practicing in Orange County, NY, recommends doing that:
Change Position or Turn Them Frequently
Take the time every few hours to have the person turn or sit up (or stand, if they’re able). Think you might forget? Try setting an alarm or even keeping a bedside log to keep track of positions and times. “Movement is the most important preventive measure when it comes to steering clear of bed sores,” Patel explains. “Less pressure on one area equals less risk.”
Protect Higher Pressure Skin Areas with Cushioning
This can be special ergonomic padding or supplies (though if you’re going that route, please research your options carefully, or ask a health care professional for recommendations) or adding mattress pads or wheelchair/seat cushions to frequently used areas.
Do Regular Skin Checks
Check your loved one’s skin regularly to catch any potential redness, irritation, or breakdown as early as possible. This means daily.
Keep Their Skin Healthy
If your loved one wears an adult diaper, ensure they are changed often and apply a barrier or diaper rash cream that provides protection between their bodily fluids and skin. “Dry skin can also prove to be problematic, so try to find a homeostasis,” Patel explains. “Washing skin with warm water and a gentle mild soap is key. Avoid harsh soaps, hot water, and scrubbing. Do your best not to cause irritation.”
What should you know about how to treat a bed sore at home?
Bed sores can develop quickly — sometimes within a few hours. Other times, it can take days. Either way, they can sneak up on you, so you’re really going to need to keep an eye out for them on your loved one, including sores on their buttocks and other parts of their body.
Bedsores may seem like one of the things caregivers can handle at home, but Patel stresses the importance of seeking medical attention as soon as you discover an ulcer is forming. While you’re still at home, immediately take any pressure off the area of concern, as long as the skin is still intact.
“Keep it dry, clean, and apply barrier cream,” Patel explains. “Anything with skin breakdown, blisters, or exposed tissue should be brought to the attention of a medical professional so that the correct staging of an ulcer can direct treatment.”
The doctor or nurse will assess the bed sore, then come up with a treatment plan, including wound care strategies. This may include things like applying dressings on the ulcer for pressure, using special mattresses or cushions, or in some situations, having to remove damaged tissue. Again, this is why this is a job for medical professionals.
What can you put on bed sores?
If you suspect someone has minor bed sores, there are a few ways to handle it at home. Honey is a great remedy because it can prevent infection and help heal the sore. It’s also important to clean the wound with saline or a homemade saltwater solution and wrap it with a bandage. This will help speed up the healing process. Keep in mind, this is for small and mild bed sores. If the wound seems infected, or the person is in extreme pain, seek medical attention and do not use these tips.
How long do bedsores last?
Each bedsore’s duration is different because each patient is unique. It depends on the stage of the sore, the treatment the person is receiving, their age, overall health condition, nutrition, and ability to move. Someone with stage two bedsores may heal within one to six weeks if they’re on a nutritious diet and can move independently. However, someone with stage three and four sores may take about six months to heal. If someone is immobile, some bedsores may never recover. For some, bedsores are a chronic issue.