If you or someone you care for spends long periods in bed or seated there is a risk that bed sores or pressure ulcers could develop. Without proper management they can occasionally become life-threatening. This guide offers general advice you may find helpful.
The first signs of a bed sore
A bed sore is the skin going red or darkening. It may look a bit like a bruise and starts going a purple colour in fair skinned people. In dark skinned people the area looks darker than the surrounding skin. The damaged area may feel sore when touched. It sometimes feels warmer or cooler than the surrounding skin and may also feel harder or softer. If you don’t treat it, the skin gradually wears away and can break open. Tell your carer or doctor if you notice any of these skin changes as seeking medical assessment as early as possible will help to prevent pressure ulcers.
You are at risk if:
- You Spend most of your day in a bed or a chair
- You are overweight or underweight
- You are not able to control your bowels or bladder
- You have decreased feeling in an area of your body
- You spend a lot of time in one position
Tips on checking your skin
If you have known risk factors for pressure ulcers, it's important that you check your skin on a daily basis for any signs of pressure ulcers, such as discoloured areas of skin. This is particularly important if you have an underlying condition, such as nerve damage or diabetes, which may dampen or numb feelings of pain in certain parts of your body.
You can use a mirror to check the parts of your body that are difficult to see, such as your bottom and the heels of your feet. If you notice any damage, report it to your carer. If you are living alone, contact your GP or community nurse. If you are in hospital or a nursing home, inform one of your nurses or carers.
Moving Around and Changing Position
If you are fully fit this happens naturally and bed sores are never allowed to develop. You may have become less mobile because of:
- Long term illness
- Low weight or beng overweight
You should make regular and frequent changes to your position as this is the most effective way of preventing pressure ulcers. If a pressure ulcer has already developed, regularly changing position will help to avoid putting further pressure on it, and give the wound the best chance of healing. If you care for someone a regime to do this should be adopted.
Wheelchair users should change their position at least once every 15 to 30 minutes as should anyone in a chair.
People who are confined to bed need to change their position at least once every two hours.
If you have developed a pressure ulcer, it's important that you minimise or avoid putting any further pressure on it to give the wound the best chance of healing.
If you are unable to change position yourself, a carer or relative will need to assist you.
Many products on the market claim to reduce pressure but it can be difficult to find out how good they are or whether they are appropriate for your needs. There are also products that are only for comfort which may be poor at preventing pressure ulcers. Also products that you sit or lie on for other reasons (such as moving or continence aids) may increase your risk of developing a pressure ulcer.
One example of a simple and cost effective way to treat patients susceptible to bed sores is the Treat-Eezi Bed Sore Pad. This product by Dan Medica South not only has excellent prevention properties but has been clinically proven to heal Stage 2 Pressure Ulcers. If you are worried about someone you care for developing bed sores, run a care home or order pressure care equipment in the health and care sector, the Treet-Eezi Bed Sore Pad is well worth considering.
Transferable between bed and chair and also useful as a glide sheet.
Skin that is moist from urine, faeces or sweat for long periods of time is more prone to damage and irritation. Incontinence alone does not cause pressure sores, but wearing wet or soiled garments for too long can make skin soft and more susceptible to damage. Moreover, good skin care and personal hygiene are important, regardless of pressure sore risk.
There is a wide variety of incontinence products to suit your needs. If you have started to have continence problems, your GP should be able to refer you to a suitable health professional or continence nurse who can suggest suitable aids.
Diet and Nutrition
Eating a healthy, balanced diet that contains an adequate amount of protein and a good variety of vitamins and minerals can help prevent skin damage and speed up the healing process.
If you currently have a reduced appetite due to a pre-existing health condition, the following advice may be useful:
- Try eating smaller meals throughout the day, rather than two or three larger meals. Set a timetable for when you should eat, rather than waiting until you feel hungry. This should ensure that you receive the necessary nutrition.
- Avoid drinking large amounts of fluids just before you are about to eat, as this will make you feel fuller than you actually are.
- If you find swallowing difficult, try drinking specially made nutritional drinks or puréed foods and soups.
- If you are a vegetarian, it's important to eat high-protein alternatives to meat. Cheese, yoghurt, peanut butter, custard, beans and nuts are all good sources of protein.
Read diet and Nutrition, for more dietary information and advice.
If you are a smoker, giving up is one of the most effective ways of preventing pressure ulcers. Smoking reduces the levels of oxygen in your blood. It also weakens your immune system, which increases your risk of developing pressure ulcers.
Read about quitting smoking for further information and advice about giving up smoking.
Hospital and Care Homes
If you have relative or friend in hospital or care home and you feel that their care needs are not being met, don't hesitate, question it immediately and if need be keep doing so as it could save their life!