How to Take a Shower After Surgery
How to Take a Shower After Surgery
Simple activities of daily life can quickly become difficult and frustrating when recovering from a surgical procedure, and bathing and showering are no exceptions. Since most surgical incisions need to be kept dry, proceed with a shower only according to the specific instructions from your doctor. These instructions may include waiting a specified amount of time before showering, carefully covering the incision, or both. Depending on the type of surgery, normal bathing routines may now be awkward due to restricted movements, plus it may be difficult to safely navigate the small shower space. Proceed with bathing and showering in a safe way, to prevent both infection and injury.
Washing the Incision Area Safely
Follow bathing or showering instructions provided by your surgeon.Your doctor knows the extent of the surgery, and how to best proceed with the next steps in the healing process.
- Each doctor has clear directions for you to follow for the first few days after surgery, including instructions for when it is safe to start bathing and showering. The directions are largely based on the type of surgery that was performed and the way the incision was closed during surgery.
- The instructions about bathing and showering were provided at the time of your discharge. Contact your doctor promptly if this information has been misplaced, so you can prevent infection, avoid injury, and move forward with your recovery.
Understand how your incision was closed.Knowing more about the method used to close your incision may help to prevent injury and infection.
- The most common four ways to close a surgical incision are: using surgical sutures, also called stitches; staples; wound closure strips, sometimes called butterfly band-aids or steri-strips; and liquid tissue glue.
- Many surgeons will also apply a waterproof bandage over the incision to allow you to shower as you normally would, when you feel up to it.
- Exposure to gentle streams of water 24 hours after surgery for incisions closed with tissue glue is considered acceptable in most cases.
- Sutures can be the kind that are removed once the tissue is healing, or they may be absorbable, and will dissolve into your skin without the need to be manually removed.
- Caring for incisions that were closed with sutures that need to be manually removed, staples, or wound closure strips similar to butterfly band-aids, may require keeping the area dry for a longer period of time. This can be accomplished by continuing to take sponge baths, or by covering the area when showering.
Wash the area gently.If the incision does not need to be covered, take care to avoid scrubbing the area or rubbing it with a washcloth.
- Clean the area using mild soap and water, but do not let soap or other bath products get directly into the incision. Let clean water gently run over the area.
- Most surgeons recommend resuming the use of your normal soap and hair care products.
Dry the incision area gently.Once you have showered, remove any coverings that may be over the incision (like gauze or a Band-aid, butnotclosure strips), and be sure the incision area is dry.
- Gently pat the area with a clean towel or gauze pads.
- Do not wipe harshly and do not remove any visible sutures, staples, or wound closure strips that are still in place.
- Avoid picking at the incision and allow scabs to remain until they naturally fall off, as they help to prevent the incision from further bleeding.
Apply only prescribed creams or ointments.Avoid using any topical products on the incision unless you are specifically directed to do so by your surgeon.
- Changing the dressing, according to the directions provided by your doctor, may include the use of topical products. Antibiotic creams or ointments may have been recommended as part of the dressing changes, but use topical products only if you were instructed to do so.
Leave butterfly/wound closure strips in place.After the time limit has passed for keeping the area dry, it is ok for the wound closure strips to get wet; however, they should not be removed until they are falling off.
- Gently pat the area dry, including the wound closure strips, as long as they are in place.
Keeping the Incision Dry
Keep the area dry if your doctor instructed you to do so.Keeping the incision area dry, which may mean delaying your shower for 24 to 72 hours after your surgery, is thought to help prevent infection and promote healing.
- Follow your doctor’s instructions. There are many variables involved with surgery, and the risk of developing an infection or damaging the incision can be avoided by following your doctor’s specific directions.
- Keep clean gauze pads nearby to pat the area if needed throughout the day, even when you are not near water.
Cover the incision.Depending on the specific instructions provided by your surgeon, you may be able to shower when you feel up to it, if the incision is at a place on your body where you can carefully cover the area using a waterproof material.
- Most surgeons will provide clear instructions for methods they prefer to cover the incision while showering.
- Use clear plastic wrap, a trash bag, or a cling-type wrap, to completely cover the incision. Use medical tape around the edges to prevent water from seeping inside the covered area.
- For difficult to reach areas, get a family member or friend to cut plastic bags or plastic wrap to cover the area and tape it in place.
- For shoulder and upper back areas, in addition to the cover placed on the incision, a garbage bag draped like a cape can be helpful in keeping water, soap, and shampoo away from the area as you shower. For a chest incision, drape the bag more like a bib.
Take a sponge bath.Until your instructions indicate you can proceed with a shower, you can feel more refreshed by taking a sponge bath and still keep the incision dry and unaffected.
- Use a sponge or washcloth dipped in water with small amounts of a mild soap. Dry yourself with a clean towel.
Avoid taking a bath.Most surgeons recommend taking a shower once the time limit required to keep the area dry has passed, and you feel up to it.
- Do not soak the area, sit in a tub filled with water, sit in a hot tub, or go swimming for at least three weeks or until your doctor says it is ok to do so.
Take quick showers.Most surgeons recommend taking showers that last about five minutes until you are stronger and the incision is healing.
Provide stability.Have someone with you at all times during the first few times you shower on your own.
- Depending on the type of surgery, you may want to use a shower stool, chair, or hand rails to provide stability and prevent falling.
- Surgeries that involve your knees, legs, ankles, feet, and back may make it difficult for you to safely balance in the small shower area, so using stools, chairs or rails, can help to provide additional support.
Position yourself so the incision faces away from the water stream.Avoid a strong flow of water directly against the incision.
- Adjust the water stream before entering the shower to provide a comfortable temperature and adjust the flow of the water to protect the incision.
Recognize the symptoms of infection.Infection is the most common complication that develops from having surgery.
- Contact your doctor immediately if you think your incision is becoming infected.
- Symptoms of infection include a temperature of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher, nausea and vomiting, severe pain, a new redness at the incision site, tenderness, a feeling of warmth to the touch, drainage that has an odor or is green or yellow in color, and new swelling around the area of the incision.
- Research suggests that as many as 300,000 people that have surgery each year in the United States will develop an infection. And, sadly, about 10,000 of those people with die from that infection.
Know if you are at higher risk of infection.Some characteristics and situations make people more likely to develop an infection, or to have their incision re-open, than others.
- Some risk factors include being obese, having diabetes or a weakened immune system, malnutrition, taking corticosteroids, or smoking.
Take precautions regarding basic hygiene.General steps you can take at home to help prevent infection include washing your hands thoroughly and often and always using clean supplies during dressing changes and after showering to pat the area dry.
- Always wash your hands after using the bathroom, handling garbage, touching pets, handling dirty laundry, touching anything that has been outside, and after handling soiled wound dressing materials.
- Take caution to advise family members and visitors to wash their hands before coming into contact with the person that had the surgery.
- Stop smoking at least two weeks prior to the surgery if possible, though four to six weeks is preferable. Smoking slows down the healing process,depriving the healing tissues of oxygen and potentially causing infection.
Knowing When to Contact the Doctor
Call your doctor if you develop a fever.Low-grade fevers following major surgery are not uncommon, but temperatures of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher may indicate an infection.
- Other signs of an infection that warrant contacting your doctor immediately include new areas of redness around the site, pus drainage from the incision, drainage that has an odor or is discolored, tenderness in the area, warmth to the touch, or new swelling in the area of the incision.
Call your doctor if the incision starts to bleed.Wash your hands thoroughly, and apply gentle pressure using clean gauze pads or clean towels. Contact your doctor immediately.
- Do not press firmly on the incision. Apply gentle pressure and wrap the area with clean, dry gauze until you can get to your doctor or to another medical facility to have the area examined.
Seek medical attention if you develop any unusual symptoms.If you develop abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting, or jaundice, which means yellowing of the skin or eyes, see a doctor as soon as possible.
- Or if you show the following symptoms of a blood clot: paleness, the extremity is cool to the touch, chest pain, shortness of breath, unusual swelling in an arm or leg.
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