Healing an open wound: Treatment and Medication
Written by Leann Poston M.D.
Any blunt force impact or injury from a sharp object can cause a wound. A wound compromises the skin’s surface and, therefore, can allow bacteria and other pathogens to enter the body. Quickly closing the gap in the skin and restoring its protective abilities is vital. Some medications can speed up healing for an open cut or wound while other factors can inhibit wound healing. Wounds can vary from superficial scrapes to deep puncture wounds. Deep wounds can injure tendons, muscles, ligaments, blood vessels, and bones.
Stages of wound healing
A wound heals in stages. The healing process will take longer for deeper or larger wounds:
- Stop the bleeding: Blood usually clots within a few minutes, and a scab begins to form.
- Inflammation: Injured blood vessels leak a clear fluid, which causes localized swelling. This fluid helps clean the wound and prevents infection. Blood vessels open, bringing proteins and cells to the cut or wound to begin the healing process.
- Rebuilding phase: Blood vessels are repaired, and new tissue grows called granulation tissue. The cut in the skin gradually pulls inward, and new skin covers the wound.
- Maturation phase: Collagen forms across the break in the skin, and the scar appears thicker. Gradually, the collagen fibers cross-link, reducing the scar thickness, and increasing the strength of the skin surface over the cut.
Taking care of a minor wound
- Thoroughly wash the wound with soap and water, ensuring all debris is removed.
- Use direct pressure and elevation to control any bleeding.
- Apply medication such as an antibiotic ointment to an open cut or wound to prevent infection.
- Bandage with a clean, dry bandage for 5-7 days.
- Apply ice as needed for swelling.
- Use pain relievers as needed.
- If the pain increases, you have a fever, the bleeding persists, the wound develops redness, swelling, or oozing, the wound is deeper than 1/2 inch, or there are any other injuries, call a health care provider.
- Verify that your tetanus shot is up-to-date.
Taking care of a larger wound
According to the CDC, follow these practices for a larger wound.
- Initial precautions:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
- Wear gloves, if available.
- Remove any obstructing clothing or jewelry.
- Stop the bleeding: Apply a clean cloth or bandage to the wound and apply pressure to help induce blood clotting.
- Clean the wound: After the bleeding has stopped, do the following:
- Clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water.
- Avoid touching it with your hands.
- If there is debris in the wound, squirt saline solution or water over it.
- Bandage: If the bleeding has stopped and the wound is clean, pat it dry and apply an adhesive bandage. If it continues to bleed, is deeper than 1/2 inch, or it cannot be thoroughly cleaned and debris removed, seek medical care.
- Unclean wounds: Bites and puncture wounds cannot be thoroughly cleaned if they are deep, seek medical care.
- Additional precautions: Seek medical care if any of the following are present:
- There is a foreign object or dirt in the wound that cannot be cleaned.
- The wound is the result of an animal bite or puncture injury from a dirty object.
- The wound shows any signs of infections, including increased pain and swelling, fever, redness, draining, or pus.
- There are any signs of systemic infection, such as shortness of breath, fast heart rate, fever or chills, increased pain, or confusion.
- You cannot verify that your tetanus shot is up-to-date.
Factors that slow wound healing
There are several factors which can slow the healing process, including the following:
- Infection: An infection can delay healing and increase the size of a scar. Apply a medication such as an antibiotic ointment regularly to an open wound or cut.
- Blood vessel damage or obstruction: Disorders such as diabetes, clogged arteries, and varicose veins can decrease blood flow to a wound.
- Age: The healing process tends to slow down as you age.
- Obesity: Skin that is stressed or stretched may have difficulty healing.
- Nutrition: Malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies can impair wound healing.
- Smoking, excessive alcohol use, and some medications: Smoking and heavy alcohol use put stress on the body’s immune system and can delay healing. Medications such as corticosteroids, chemotherapeutic drugs, and NSAIDs can also slow healing.
Medications to speed up healing in open cuts and wounds
The initial medication used for preventing infection in a cut or open wound is an antibiotic ointment. Other medications and treatments have been demonstrated to speed up healing for open cuts and wounds, including the following:
- BPC-157: BPC-157 is a fifteen amino acid fragment of a protein derived from a protein found in gastric juice which has been found to promote healing in many different tissues including skin wounds in animal studies.¹
- AMD3100 and tacrolimus: This prescription drug combination accelerates wound healing and reduces scar tissue when studied in mice and rats.²
- Growth Factors (PDGF): Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) contains a higher level of platelets and the growth factors in them.³
- Silver containing dressing: Studies are inconclusive on the benefits of topical silver on wound healing.³
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.
- Mikus D, Sikiric P, Seiwerth S, et al. Pentadecapeptide BPC 157 cream improves burn-wound healing and attenuates burn-gastric lesions in mice. Burns. 2001;27(8):817-827. doi:10.1016/s0305-4179(01)00055-9
- Lin, Q., Wesson, R. N., Maeda, H., Wang, Y., Cui, Z., Liu, J. O., Cameron, A. M., Gao, B., Montgomery, R. A., Williams, G. M., & Sun, Z. (2014). Pharmacological mobilization of endogenous stem cells significantly promotes skin regeneration after full-thickness excision: the synergistic activity of AMD3100 and tacrolimus. The Journal of investigative dermatology, 134(9), 2458–2468. https://doi.org/10.1038/jid.2014.162
- E. Öhnstedt, H. Lofton Tomenius, E. Vågesjö & M. Phillipson (2019) The discovery and development of topical medicines for wound healing, Expert Opinion on Drug Discovery, 14:5, 485-497, DOI: 10.1080/17460441.2019.1588879