Wound flushing is a method of cleaning a wound by applying pressurized water or antiseptic solutions to the tissues. It is also called irrigation.
Wound flushing is used to help flush debris from a wound, lessening the risk of infection or treating an infection that already exists. If the wound is flushed with an antiseptic, it is more likely to heal correctly; flushing the wound can help prevent the surface from healing over a possibly infected area underneath.
Wound flushing is routinely performed by dentists or oral surgeons following tooth extractions, mouth trauma, or gum surgery, to prevent bacteria from the mouth entering the bloodstream as well as to cleanse the tooth socket.
Wound flushing is usually done in a hospital or oral surgery center, though if it is performed at home, there is less chance of infection because of the higher risk of bacterial contamination in the hospital environment. Wound flushing is especially helpful in treating people with bites, lacerations, or crush injuries, which often become infected due to the presence of dead tissue and foreign debris, such as splinters or dirt. In a nonsurgical situation, the procedure is usually performed by a nurse. An acute injury, such as a crushing wound or knife cut, the wound is flushed right before the injury is stitched closed. For people with chronic wounds, such as bed sores or abscesses, the wound may be flushed periodically to treat or prevent infection. During an operation, a surgeon uses an antibacterial solution to flush the surgical site just before stitching the wound closed. After surgery, the wounds may be flushed to treat or prevent infection.
The nurse or doctor may inject the site with a local anesthetic before flushing the wound.
After the wound is flushed, the health care provider cleans the area around the wound to guard against infection. Packing to absorb excess fluids may be placed into the wound, followed by a sterile bandage.
Complications rarely occur, especially if the solution used to flush the wound is chosen carefully so as to avoid skin irritation; occasionally, however, serious infections are reported. In addition, damage to skin or internal organs has been reported from the use of hydrogen peroxide to flush wounds or irrigate the abdominal cavity after surgery.
Patients should call the doctor immediately if there is any sign of infection, such as fever, pus, or swelling.
The wound will heal correctly, from the inside out, without infection.
Beers, Mark H., MD, and Robert Berkow, MD., editors. "Dentistry in Medicine." Section 9, Chapter 103 In The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories, 2002.
Watt, B. E., A. T. Proudfoot, and J. A. Vale. "Hydrogen Peroxide Poisoning." Toxicological Reviews 23 (January 2004): 51-57.
Antiseptic — Chemicals applied to the skin to destroy bacteria and prevent infection.
Irrigation — The medical name for wound flushing.