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What to Do If Your Cast Gets Wet (and Other Good-to-Know Tips)

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by Peggy Spencer, M.D.

You've just been to the doctor. Halfway home you realize you already forgot her instructions. "Oh no!" you cry, smacking your forehead. Now what?

Here are some common questions and things she may have said, to help jog your memory. Click on a topic below or just scroll down.


1. HOW TO CARE FOR STITCHES

  • How long do you leave the bandage on? Leave the stitches alone for 24 hours. Don't get them wet and don't remove the dressing.
  • What do you do after you take the bandage off? Wash the area gently with soap and water, and put on a new bandage. Antibiotic ointment will keep the wound soft and healing nicely.


2. HOW TO CARE FOR A CAST

Some new-fangled casts are waterproof, but unless you have one of these, keep it dry until it comes off. That means covering it with plastic in the shower or hanging it over the edge of the tub. (In fact, keeping it dry is a good idea for all casts, even the so-called waterproof ones, since most have cloth interiors and water can seep through the edges.)

  • What do you do if your cast gets wet? Dry it with a hair dryer set on low.
  • Can you scratch your arm in the cast? If your arm itches, tap on the cast or blow into it with a cool hair dryer. Don't poke anything down under the cast to scratch! This could tear the skin.
  • What should you do if your cast starts to smell bad? This means it has gotten wet from sweat or water. Try drying it, but know that you might need a new cast to get rid of the smell.


3. HOW TO TREAT A SPRAIN OR STRAIN
after the doctor visit

Follow the RICE advice.

  • Rest. For an ankle, that means stay off it! Plan to use crutches for at least a week.
  • Ice. Ice the swollen area three times a day for 10 minutes.
  • Compression. An elastic wrap around a swollen joint can help keep the swelling down. Don't overdo it and cut off your circulation.
  • Elevation. Keep the swollen part above your heart as much as possible, or at least up on a chair.


4. HOW TO TREAT INFECTION (like strep throat)
after the doctor visit

  • How long do I need to take antibiotics? As a general rule, you need to take them for 48 hours before you're no longer contagious.
  • Do I have to throw away my toothbrush if I have strep throat? Yes.


5. HOW TO TREAT PINK EYE (OR PINKEYE)
after the doctor visit

Throw away the eye makeup you were using. Thoroughly clean contacts or throw them away if they're disposable. Don't wear contacts or use makeup again until your infection is gone and you're finished with your course of medicine.


6. HOW TO DEAL WITH VOMITING
after the doctor visit

  • How long do I have to wait before eating or drinking? Don't eat or drink anything for four hours after your last vomit. (You can wet your mouth with ice chips.) After the four hours, start slowly with clear liquids.


7. HOW TO DEAL WITH DIARRHEA
after the doctor visit

  • How long do I have to wait before eating? Stick with clear liquids until the diarrhea lets up.
  • What should I eat after diarrhea? Start with foods that are easy to digest, such as those in the BRAT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce and toast.


8. HOW TO TREAT A BURN
after the doctor visit

  • Should I put ointment on a burn? Although you shouldn't put ointment on a burn immediately because that keeps the heat in, once you see the doctor, if the burn has caused an open blister or wound, he or she might recommend antibiotic ointment. In that case, slather it with the ointment and keep it covered with a sterile dressing.
  • How often should I change the burn dressing? Daily.


Please note: These are general guidelines. If your doctor told you something different, do what your doctor said!


PEGGY SPENCER, M.D.,
is a board-certified family doctor at the University of New Mexico Student Health and Counseling center and co-author of 50 Ways to Leave Your 40s.

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Last updated and/or approved: June 2010.
Originally published January 2010. Bio current as of then. This article is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.
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All very good advice
written by Danh H. Nguyen, MD , May 20, 2011

One thing I would add. For vomiting, when you start taking fluids. Start slow, sips and no gulping it down. Also diluted Gatorade will help replenish some of the electrolytes you've lost.

I've seen some patients will many electrolyte abnormalities from vomiting, but when we rechecked it after a night of sipping Gatorade and everything was back to normal!

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