When accidents happen, first aid is a critical first step. But for open wounds and similar emergencies, it’s always a good idea to follow up with a health care professional. According to the World Health Organization, tens of millions of people suffer injuries that lead to hospitalization, emergency department visits, general practitioner treatment or treatment that does not involve formal medical care.

As common as these injuries are, it’s important to deal with them immediately to prevent infection and minimize complications later, when you seek care from a medical professional. Here’s a helpful guide on basic wound care:

Woman bandaging her own handBasic precautions for treating a wound can help prevent infection and avoid complications.

What’s the first step in wound care management?

Controlling bleeding is most important. Apply direct pressure on the wound, using gauze pads if you have them. Cloth towels also work well. Next, elevate the wound above the heart. For example, if it’s a hand or foot injury, change the position of the body and raise the limb so it’s higher than the upper chest.

Keep the pressure on while doing this. You can also use pressure points – places where blood vessels are close to the surface. Make sure you press on a point closer to the heart than the wound. If it’s further away from the heart, pressure will have no effect on the bleeding. Do not apply a tourniquet unless it’s a dire emergency.

Next: Clean the wound

Once bleeding is under control, you can clean the open wound with mild soap and water. Liquid soap is also a good choice; you don’t need an antibacterial soap, however. Be aware that water can sometimes sting, so you may want to use saline solution instead, especially for delicate skin and eyes.

Keep the wound clean to avoid infection. If it gets dirty or contaminated after a dressing is applied, carefully remove the dressing and clean again. Minor bleeding can begin after cleaning, however. If this happens, use direct pressure with a sterile (or clean) piece of gauze or a cloth towel.

Finally, dress the wound

Once the wound is clean and no longer bleeding, apply antiseptic ointment to keep out germs. Cover the wound lightly with an adhesive dressing or waterproof bandage. If the dressing sticks to body hair, you may wrap the extremity loosely with a wide piece of gauze. Always change the dressings every 12 hours.

When re-dressing the wound, check for infection or other complications. If you observe tenderness, red streaks or inflammation around the wound; fever; swelling; or numbness, consult a doctor as soon as possible.

If you need wound care supplies, talk to your doctor about smartPAC by Advanced Tissue to get your prescribed products delivered straight to your front door.