Debridement speeds the healing of pressure ulcers, burns, and other wounds. Wounds that contain non-living (necrotic) tissuetake longer to heal. The necrotic tissue may become colonized with bacteria, producing an unpleasant odor. Though the wound is not necessarily infected, the bacteria can cause inflammation and strain the body's ability to fight infection. Necrotic tissuemay also hide pockets of pus called abscesses. Abscesses can develop into a general infection that may lead to amputation or death.
Not all wounds need debridement. Sometimes it is better to leave a hardened crust of dead tissue, called an eschar, than to remove it and create an open wound, particularly if the crust is stable and the wound is not inflamed. Before performing debridement, the physician will take a medical history with attention to factors that might complicate healing, such asmedications being taken and smoking. The physician will also note the cause of the wound and the ways it has been treated.Some ulcers and other wounds occur in places where blood flow is impaired, for example, the foot ulcers that can accompany diabetes mellitus. In such cases, the physician or nurse may decide not to debride the wound because blood flow may beinsufficient for proper healing.
In debridement, dead tissue is removed so that the remaining living tissue can adequately heal. Dead tissue exposed to the air will form a hard black crust, called an eschar. Deeper tissue will remain moist and may appear white, or yellow and soft, or flimsy. The four major debridement techniques are surgical, mechanical, chemical, and autolytic.
Surgical debridement (also known as sharp debridement) uses a scalpel, scissors, or other instrument to cut dead tissue from a wound. It is the quickest and most efficient method of debridement. It is the preferred method if there is rapidly developing inflammation of the body's connective tissues (cellulitis) or a more generalized infection (sepsis) that has entered the bloodstream. The procedure can be performed at a patient's bedside. If the target tissue is deep or close to another organ,however, or if the patient is experiencing extreme pain, the procedure may be done in an operating room. Surgical debridement is generally performed by a physician, but in some areas of the country an advance practice nurse or physician assistant may perform the procedure.
The physician will begin by flushing the area with a saline (salt water) solution, and then will apply a topical anesthetic gel to the edges of the wound to minimize pain. Using a forceps to grip the dead tissue, the physician will cut it away bit by bit with a scalpel or scissors. Sometimes it is necessary to leave some dead tissue behind rather than disturb living tissue. The physician may repeat the process again at another session.
In mechanical debridement, a saline-moistened dressing is allowed to dry overnight and adhere to the dead tissue. When the dressing is removed, the dead tissue is pulled away too. This process is one of the oldest methods of debridement. It can be very painful because the dressing can adhere to living as well as nonliving tissue. Because mechanical debridement cannot select between good and bad tissue, it is an unacceptable debridement method for clean wounds where a new layer of healingcells is already developing.
Chemical debridement makes use of certain enzymes and other compounds to dissolve necrotic tissue. It is more selective than mechanical debridement. In fact, the body makes its own enzyme, collagenase, to break down collagen, one of the major building blocks of skin. A pharmaceutical version of collagenase is available and is highly effective as a debridement agent. As with other debridement techniques, the area first is flushed with saline. Any crust of dead tissue is etched in a cross-hatched pattern to allow the enzyme to penetrate. A topical antibiotic is also applied to prevent introducing infection into thebloodstream. A moist dressing is then placed over the wound.
Autolytic debridement takes advantage of the body's own ability to dissolve dead tissue. The key to the technique is keeping the wound moist, which can be accomplished with a variety of dressings. These dressings help to trap wound fluid that contains growth factors, enzymes, and immune cells that promote wound healing. Autolytic debridement is more selective than any other debridement method, but it also takes the longest to work. It is inappropriate for wounds that have become infected.