Understanding wound odor is an important part of any treatment plan.

In 2015, the European Wound Management Association released an article detailing psychological effects of malignant fungating wounds. For many patients, as the EWMA argued, wound odor is among the hardest things to cope with emotionally, and that certainly must extend to other wound types as well. Not only is odor uncomfortable to be around, but it can be indicative of infections or other complications. It’s important, then, that all patients understand odor and how it can affect their personal wound care regimen.

What causes wound odor?

According to Canadian Association of Wound Care, odor is usually caused by the breakdown of tissue. When a part of the body or section of skin is injured, anaerobic bacteria – microorganisms that do not require oxygen to thrive – move into the wound site. As they begin to methodically degrade tissue, these cells release chemicals like putrescine and cadaverine as byproducts. It’s those agents that are responsible for the foul smells associated with injuries like pressure ulcers and exudating wounds.

What do wounds smell like?

As mentioned above, the chemicals associated with anaerobic bacteria often smell foul or putrid. However, as Wound Educators pointed out, there are a range of other smells associated with infected wounds. For example, proteus bacteria is said to smell like ammonia, a sterilizing chemical found in many industrial cleaners. Meanwhile, bacteria like pseudomonas actually has a kind of sweet smell, with comparisons often made to almonds. It’s worth noting, though, that even these non-putrid smells can still be indicative of complications. It’s important to tell your doctor about these specific smells, as he or she has experience in deciphering what each odor means in the wound healing process.

How do doctors assess wound odor?

In 1995, the research team of William Haughton and T. Young devised a method of assessing wound for proper documentation. The pair’s scale – which was first published in the British Journal of Nursing – is as follows:

  • No odor: There is also a lack of smell when the dressing has been removed.
  • Slight odor: An odor is only detectable at close proximity to the patient and when the dressing is removed.
  • Moderate odor: Similar to the above ranking, except that the dressing remains on the patient.
  • Strong odor: This is when an odor is discernible within 6 to 10 feet of the patient and the dressing is removed.
  • Very strong odor: An odor that’s also noticeable within 6 to 10 feet, but the patient’s dressings remain fully intact.

Doctors also look closely at the color of any accompanying discharge, which has a lot to do with the overall smell emanating from the wound site.

What can be done about wound odor?

When it comes to most wound care regimens, doctors have several options to eliminate odor. Chief among these are advanced dressings designed specifically to combat odors. Iodosorb is a patented gel used to remove exudate and debris, which represents the bulk of the odor-producing agents in sores and ulcers. Dressings made with hydrocolloid, which are used primarily on cuts, feature industrial-grade odor absorbers like cyclodextrin. Another popular option is anything with silver, which actively absorbs toxins, fatty acids and other agents responsible for foul odors. Speak with your primary doctor about the dressing type that is best suited for your wound and its accompanying odor severity.

No matter what dressing option you’ll require, Advanced Tissue will always be your go-to source. As the nation’s leader in the delivery of specialized wound care supplies, Advanced Tissue ships supplies to individuals at home and in long-term care facilities.