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How Do I Care for a Chest Incision?

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  • Written By: Madeleine A.
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2016
  • Copyright Protected:
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Caring for a chest incision includes proper cleaning of the incision, monitoring for signs of infection, and managing pain associated with the chest incision. It is important for patients with chest incisions to be careful when bathing because they must clean their wound, but avoid soaking it with water. Patients with chest wounds also should be careful to check with their doctors regarding any medicines or other post-operative treatments.

Chest incisions can generally be divided into three categories. With traditional incisions, the breastbone is closed using a strong type of wire. The minimally invasive chest incision is smaller than a traditional incision. The third type includes incisions that are created to insert a pacemaker, chest tube, or intravenous line.

When riding in the car, the person with a chest incision should insert a small rolled towel between the incision and the seat belt to act as a shock absorber. When showering, warm water is preferred over hot water because it is less irritating to the chest incision. Allowing the water to gently run onto the incision will increase circulation and promote healing, however, taking a bath, swimming, or soaking in a hot tub is not recommended until a month has passed since the surgery. The incision should be washed daily with mild soap and warm water, then dried with a soft towel.

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Lotions and powders should also be avoided for about a month or until the incision's scab falls off. If the incision has been closed with steri-strips or paper strips, they will gradually peel away as the person takes a daily shower. If the strips do not come off with showering, they may be gently removed after about five days. If the incision has been closed with sutures, showering should be done with the back against the spray of the water. The spray of the water might irritate the sutures as might rubbing them with soap and water. A better alternative is to place a mild soap and warm water on a washcloth to gently wash the incision.

Monitoring for signs of infection also is important when caring for a chest incision. At the first sign of infection, the surgeon should be notified. Signs of infection include redness at the incision site, drainage, and an increase in temperature over the incision site. Also, the oozing of fluid, pus, or blood from the incision, or a fever may indicate an infection.

Pain, tightness, itching, or numbness may also be present around the incision site. Patients should take prescription pain relievers as directed by the surgeon to ease discomfort, and an over-the-counter antihistamine to manage itching. Prior to taking an antihistamine or other over-the-counter medications, vitamins or dietary supplements, the surgeon should be consulted to determine if it is safe to do so.

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