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Incision Care: Chest

Dressing your incision helps keep it clean, dry, and free of infection. That way it will heal faster. Your incision may be open to the air by the time you go home. But if you need to change your dressing, follow the steps below.

Image of washing hands

Step 1. Wash Your Hands and Set Up

  • Use liquid soap. Lather for 1 or 2 minutes. Scrub between your fingers and under your nails.

  • Rinse with warm water, keeping fingers pointing down. Use a clean towel to dry your hands and turn off the faucet.

  • Put all your supplies on a clean cloth or paper towel. Open a plastic trash bag.

  • Peel back the edges of the dressing packages. Pour any irrigation solutions into clean solution cups.

  • Clean the scissors with soap and water. Cut each piece of tape 4 inches longer than the dressing.

Image of removing dressing

Step 2. Remove the Old Dressing

  • Put on disposable gloves.

  • Loosen the tape by pulling gently toward the incision. Remove the dressing one layer at a time. Put it right into the plastic bag.

  • Remove your gloves and put them in the plastic bag. Wash your hands. Then put on new gloves.

Image of fresh dressing.

Step 3. Clean and Dress the Incision

  • Gently clean the incision with soap and water, unless instructed differently by your doctor or nurse. Don't scrub the incision wipe it gently. Pat the incision dry. Don't use any creams, lotions, or antibacterial ointments unless instructed by your doctor to do so. Apply a clean dressing as directed, if necessary.

  • Put all used supplies in the plastic bag. Remove your gloves last and put them in the bag. Seal the bag and put it in the trash. Be sure to wash your hands again.

When to Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor right away if you have any of the following:

  • Bleeding from the incision, or an opening of the incision where it was previously closed

  • Increased redness, swelling, or pain in or around the incision

  • Increased drainage, regardless of color, or foul-smelling drainage

  • Change in the color of the incision

  • Fever over 101°F (38.3°C), or chills

Online Medical Reviewer: Fetterman, Anne, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 3/9/2014
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