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What Is Irrigation and Debridement?

Local anesthetic may be applied to patients who undergo irrigation and debridement in a hospital setting.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2014
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Irrigation and debridement are methods used to clean wounds, removing dead material and flushing the wound to remove organisms and dead cells. The procedure can be used as part of an initial response to injury, cleaning the wound to determine the extent of the damage and start treatment. It may also be a followup treatment if a patient’s injury appears to need additional care. Some patients find irrigation and debridement uncomfortable, and may receive sedation or local anesthetics first to help them relax.

Saline is a common choice of fluid for this procedure. Soaps cannot be used because they may injure cells. A syringe or similar device can be used to gently spray fluid into the wound, starting in the middle and working out. This can flush out dirt, rocks, and other foreign bodies that may be present, along with pus, clots, and dead cells. Debridement involves carefully trimming away dead or infected tissue to leave healthy material behind.

Open injuries may need irrigation before treatment. This is important to remove organisms that might cause infection, as well as debris like glass from a car accident. While irrigating the wound, first responders can learn more about the nature of the injury and work on a treatment plan. Some debridement may be performed to remove obviously injured tissue that is unlikely to survive before proceeding with surgery, bandaging, and other treatment options.

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As wounds start to heal, they can be evaluated to determine if they need irrigation and debridement. Frequent cleaning can disrupt the healing process, increasing the risk of infection and scarring. Failing to take action when dead tissue is accumulating or there are clearly foreign bodies in the wound can be equally dangerous. The wound can be accessed during bandage changes to determine whether it requires irrigation and debridement to stay clean and promote even healing.

Hospital settings are often used for irrigation and debridement, but it can be performed at home by a visiting nurse or medical technician if necessary. Debridement can be painful, as it may involve cutting into the skin or disturbing scabs. Local anesthetic may be applied to numb the site before starting to work. Patients can speak up if they feel uncomfortable, as this may be an indicator that the anesthetic is wearing off or that there’s another problem, like nerve damage in the area around the injury. Full general anesthesia may be used for cases where extensive irrigation and debridement are required, like with burn victims.

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