Wound Check After Surgery: Infection

Your surgical wound has become infected. Infection after surgery usually involves just the top layers of skin. Sometimes the infection is deeper in the wound and may involve a collection of fluid or pus. Treatment will depend on the type of infection you have.

You may need to have a procedure to open and drain the wound if pus or infected fluid is present.

You may get antibiotics for the infection. Take them as directed until gone.

Home care

Different types of surgery require different types of care and dressing changes. It's important to follow all instructions and advice from your surgeon, as well as other members of your healthcare team. If possible, it can be helpful to have a family member or close friend listen with you to the discharge instructions.

Wound care

  • Keep the wound clean, as directed by your healthcare provider.

  • Change the dressing as directed. Change the dressing sooner if it becomes wet or stained with blood or fluid from the wound.

  • Bathe with a sponge (no shower or tub baths) for the first few days, or until there is no more drainage from the wound. Unless your surgeon gave you different instructions, you can then shower. Don't soak the area in water (no baths or swimming) until the tape, sutures, or staples are removed and any wound opening has dried out and healed.

  • If you smoke, stop smoking. Ask your healthcare provider about ways to quit.

Changing the dressing

  • Scrub your hands with plain soap and clean, running water for at least 20 seconds before and after changing the dressings. Or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.

  • Carefully remove the dressing and tape. Don’t just yank it off. If it sticks to the wound, you may need to wet it a little to remove it, unless your healthcare provider told you not to wet it.

  • Gently clean the wound with clean water (or saline) using gauze or a clean washcloth. Don't rub it or pick at it.

  • Don't use soap, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or any other cleanser on the wound.

  • If you were told to dry the wound before putting on a new dressing, gently pat it dry. Don't rub.

  • Scrub your hands again for at least 20 seconds before putting on a new, clean dressing.

  • Put the old dressing in a sealed plastic bag and throw it out. Don't reuse it!

  • Scrub your hands again for 20 seconds when you are done.

Types of dressings

Your healthcare team will tell you what type of dressing to put on your wound. Follow your healthcare team’s instructions carefully, and contact them if you have any questions. Two common types of dressings are described below. You may have one of these or another type.

  • Dry dressing. Use dry gauze or pad.

  • Wet-to-dry dressing. Wet the gauze and squeeze out the extra water (or saline) before putting it on. Then cover this with a dry pad.


  • If you were given antibiotics, take them until they are used up or your healthcare provider tells you to stop. It's important to finish the antibiotics even though you feel better, to make sure the infection has cleared.

  • You can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain, unless you were given a different pain medicine to use. Talk with your provider before using these medicines if you have chronic liver or kidney disease. Also talk with your provider if you have ever had a stomach ulcer or digestive bleeding, or are taking blood-thinner medicines.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider for your next wound check or to remove your stitches, staples, or tape.

  • If a wound culture was done, you'll be told if the results will affect your treatment. You can call as directed for the results.

  • If imaging tests, such as X-rays, an ultrasound, or CT scan were done, they'll be looked at by a specialist. You'll be told of the results, especially if they affect treatment.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing

  • Wheezing

  • Hoarse voice or trouble speaking

  • Extreme confusion

  • Extreme drowsiness or trouble awakening

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate or very slow heart rate

  • Vomiting blood, or large amounts of blood in stool

  • Discomfort in the center of the chest that feels like pressure, squeezing, a sense of fullness, or pain

  • Discomfort or pain in other upper body areas, such as the back, one or both arms, neck, jaw, or stomach

  • Stroke symptoms (spot a stroke “AST):

    • F: Face drooping. One side of the face is numb or droops.

    • A: Arm weakness. One arm feels weak or numb.

    • S: Speech difficulty: Speech is slurred, or you can't speak.

    • T: Time to call 911. Even if symptoms go away, call 911.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Increasing pain at the site of surgery

  • Pain not controlled by medicine prescribed

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your provider

  • Increasing redness around the wound

  • Fluid, pus, or blood that continues to drain from the wound after 5 days of treatment

  • Vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea

  • Symptoms get worse or new symptoms appear

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