Treatment of pressure sores

Pressure sores develop when the skin breaks down and creates a wound. There is a risk that the wound can get infected. This can be a serious problem. It is very important to treat infections quickly.

It is important that a nurse or doctor examines you. District nurses can visit and advise on how to look after your skin if you are at home. In hospitals, specialist nurses known as tissue viability nurses have training in treating pressure sores. They can advise you on the best treatment.

It can take a long time for pressure sores to heal.

Signs to look out for include:

  • purplish or bluish patches on dark skinned people
  • red or white patches on fair skinned people
  • blisters
  • swelling
  • shiny areas
  • dry patches
  • cracks and wrinkles

Tell your nurse or doctor straight away if you notice any of these skin changes. Assessing the skin as early as possible will help prevent pressure sores. 

Relieving the pressure

If you develop a pressure sore, it is vital to relieve pressure on the area at least every 2 hours. The best way to do this is by not lying or sitting on that area of skin at all.

Special bed

A few studies have looked at a special bed to relieve pressure. The bed contains a mixture of air and fluid. Researchers found that pressure sores became smaller after 2 weeks using this type of bed.

Other types of mattresses

These include waterbeds, inflatable mattresses and ripple mattresses. They are available but there is less research to say how helpful they are.

It is recommend that you should have a more sophisticated mattress if your skin has broken down. For example, a continuous low pressure system or an alternating pressure system. Your district nurse can assess your skin and order you a special mattress if you are at home.

Dressings for pressure sores

If your skin has broken down you may need to have a dressing on it. The dressing protects the area, keeps it clean and moist and helps it to heal.

There are different types of dressings, the one you need will depend on your wound. These could include:

  • alginate dressings, made from seaweed
  • Clear film dressings, like medical cling film
  • gels put on to the wound that soak up fluid (hydrocolloids)
  • hydrogel, which keeps wounds moist and helps to clean them
  • foam dressings that absorb fluid from the wound
  • honey dressing
  • silver dressing

Your nurse will assess your pressure sore to decide which dressing is best for you, change it as needed and monitor how well it is working.

Surgery for pressure sores

Dead tissue around the sore can slow healing. You may need to remove the dead cells in a process called debridement. It can be done in different ways.

Your nurse may be able to remove the dead tissue when cleaning your wound and changing the dressing. Some of the dressings may help to remove it but sometimes a specialist tissue viability nurse needs to cut dead areas away.

This can usually be done at home or at your GP surgery. More rarely, when the sore is deeper you may need to have an operation in hospital to remove the dead cells and clean the wound.

Other treatments

Other treatments may help but we need more research about them. They include:

  • diet changes and supplements
  • suction treatment to remove excess fluid from the wound
  • electrical therapy - a small amount of electricity stimulates the cells and helps healing
  • ultrasound
  • laser treatment, which uses light to help repair the wound
  • sterile maggots (larvae) are very good at removing dead cells and cleaning the wound
Last reviewed: 
22 Feb 2019
  • Pressure ulcers prevention and treatment
    European Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel (EPUAP), 2014

  • Prevention and management of pressure ulcers. Best Practice Statement
    Healthcare Improvement Scotland, 2009

  • Pressure ulcers - prevention and treatment
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2005

  • Support surfaces for pressure ulcer prevention
    E McInnes and others
    Cochrane Database for Systematic Reviews, 2011
    Issue 4, Art. No.: CD001735. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001735.pub4

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