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4 Common Home-Care Mistakes When Treating Stitches, Casts, Vomiting and Diarrhea

castby James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

Most people don't retain information too well after a doctor visit. They're nervous, traumatized or more concerned about getting out of the building in one piece. I know. I've been in their shoes.

Here are four common misconceptions I see in my own office. For more treatment tips, please check out our article, "Forgot the doctor's advice after the visit? Here's what to do."

  1. STITCHES MISTAKE: "I've had stitches before, so I know how to care for them."
    Since wounds are of different depths and severity, be sure you ask your doctor the right questions. Answers may vary based on your situation.

    Examples:
    • When should I remove the bandaging? The answer could be anywhere from the next morning to the next visit in two or three days.
    • What should I do if the bandage becomes blood soaked? Usually, you should come back and have it rechecked if it's actively bleeding, although a little oozing may be controlled with elevation and firm pressure directly on the wound for a few minutes.
    • When can I get it wet?
    • Should I keep it covered at all times?
    • Should I clean it myself? How?
    • What should I look for regarding infection? What should I do if those signs exist?Newsletter
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  2. CAST MISTAKE: "I can swim or take a bath with a waterproof cast without concern."
    Many casts are waterproof on the outside. However, the edges are not sealed, and the inside usually has cloth padding. If this becomes soaked, it's difficult to dry and can cause the skin to macerate (become soft and easier to tear). The inside of the cast can also develop an odor from an overgrowth of normal skin bacteria. Better to use an exterior seal if you're going to dip it under the water. Ask your doctor.

  3. VOMITING MISTAKE: "I should try to drink fluids if I'm vomiting."
    Your doctor may give you antinausea medicine and/or fluids through an IV. When you go home, it's generally better not to drink anything if you're only going to vomit it back up, losing not only what you drank but essential electrolytes from your digestive system. Start slow with water or ice chips and progress from there. Save the eating for later.

  4. DIRRHEA MISTAKE: "I should continue to eat solids with diarrhea."
    Even after you’ve seen your doctor, you or your child may need to stay on clear liquids for 24 hours to let you digestive system settle. Often, this should be strictly adhered to--no solids, no milk. If you veer off the recommendations, the diarrhea can last much longer. I know it's difficult if you're getting hungry. As always, check with your doctor for your individual case.

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JAMES HUBBARD, M.D., M.P.H., is publisher of www.MyFamilyDoctorMag.com and has been a family doctor for over 25 years.

Article last updated and/or approved: February 2010.

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