How to Prevent and Treat Bedsores: A Caregiver’s Guide

Brianna Maguire

Written by Brianna Maguire on Thu Jul 08 2021.

A woman lies on a bed.

Bedsores, also known as pressure ulcers, are wounds that appear on the body as a result of inactivity for extended periods. The term “bedsores” actually comes from their main cause: when someone is bedridden for an extended period, the pressure of their body against the mattress can result in ulcers or open wounds. Learn how you as a caregiver, can help prevent and treat bedsores.

To successfully prevent and treat bedsores, it’s important to understand their development. Bedsores typically progress in four stages:

Stage one:

Early stage bedsores are red in color and rough or warm to the touch. They’re painful and blanchable, meaning that if they’re touched, a finger indentation can be seen. 

Stage two:

As a bedsore grows, the skin develops an open area that’s sensitive and/or painful. Some bedsores look like a sunburn, while others are more blister-like. 

Stage three: 

Over time, the infection spreads to the deeper layers of the skin, making the wound appear crater-like. 

Stage four: 

The infection progresses, exposing muscle or bone. At this stage, it’s critical the wound receives treatment in order to prevent infection or gangrene. Some people experience pain during this stage, others don’t. That’s because the severity of the wound can result in nerve damage. 

If your loved one is wheelchair bound or bedridden, and they’ve developed pressure ulcers in any of these four stages, it’s important to start treatment right away. 

Why do bedsores occur?

The most common cause of bedsores is long-term pressure. Specifically, they occur when adequate blood supply is cut off from the skin for two or three hours.  For example, if your loved one lies on their back for several hours, they might develop pressure sores on their tailbone, shoulder blades, or the back of their head.

Another cause of bedsores is friction against the skin, especially if the skin is wet. If your loved one experiences incontinence, it’s important you have the right products to keep them dry and clean. Diapers with tabs are an ultra-absorbent way to wick moisture away from your loved one’s skin. Plus, they come in all shapes and sizes, so you can always find exactly what you need.

How do I prevent bedsores?

While bedsores are uncomfortable and inconvenient, they’re also easy to prevent. First off,  ensure your loved one is always comfortable and dry, and that they regularly change positions throughout the day. 

Here’s how to safely reposition your loved one, according to Verywell Health:

  1. Stand on the opposite side of the bed.

  2. Carefully roll your loved one onto their side, and put a pillow behind the small of their back to help prop them up. 

  3. Place another pillow between your loved one’s knees to keep their spine in alignment.

  4. Use a third pillow to prop up your loved one’s arms, preferably under their elbows.

  5. Every two hours, change your loved one’s position between their back, right side, and left side.  

This video from The Care Channel illustrates the process (Illustration begins at :40)

There are several other steps you can take to reduce the risk of bedsores. For example, it’s crucial you have soft, comfortable bedding to decrease the pressure that causes them. Egg crate mattress toppers, soft pillows, and clean sheets are all steps in the right direction. If your loved one experiences urine or bowel voids, keep them dry with high-quality incontinence products

How do I treat bedsores?

Treating bedsores can be tricky, but at Carewell, we have everything you need to help your loved one get back to normal. We recommend three simple steps:

  1. Wash and cleanse the wound with a gentle, scent-free.

  2. Keep the wound covered with.

  3. Repeat daily.

Here’s a quick video from Skills Lab that illustrates the process: 

To make the selection process a little easier, we’ve listed a few of our top-selling wound cleansers and wound dressings:

McKesson dermal wound cleanser, nonsterile

This no-rinse cleanser from McKesson is formulated for both chronic and acute wounds. It comes in a 16 oz. bottle with a spray function for easy application.

Key benefits & features:

  • Non-cytotoxic

  • Rubber and latex-free

  • Safe for all types of wounds

Sea-Clens general purpose wound cleanser

This general-purpose wound cleanser from Sea-Clens comes in a 6 oz. or 12 oz. bottle. The saline-based solution is formulated to loosen debris from the wound bed without interfering with the body’s natural healing process.

McKesson adhesive dressing, rectangle 

If your loved one has sensitive skin or they’re allergic to gauze or tape, consider these adhesive dressings from McKesson. Sizes vary from 4 x 6” to 6 x 8”. Each dressing has a non-adherent pad in the center to avoid disrupting the wound bed upon removal. 

MEDIHONEY calcium alginate dressing

These alginate dressings from MEDIHONEY contain active Leptospermum (Manuka) honey, which is clinically proven to clean and debride wounds. The unique formula lowers the wound’s pH level, creating an optimal healing environment.

Key benefits & features:

  • Non-adhesive

  • Sterile

  • Free of rubber and latex

  • Safe for partial-to-full thickness wounds with moderate-to-heavy drainage

For more advanced bedsores, or if washing and dressing the wound doesn’t seem to be helping, consider a wound-specific cleanser or a wound paste. You might also need extra dressings if the wound has excess fluid. Keep in mind that, unlike typical wounds, bedsores take a long time to heal, so don’t expect to see immediate results. 

When do I need to see a doctor?

For mild to moderate bedsores, you’re likely fine to treat them yourself, at home. However, if the sore persists or if your loved one expresses discomfort, it’s never a bad idea to consult your physician. Since bedsores can lead to dangerous infections, your doctor can ensure that your loved one has the proper antibiotics and treatments to properly address the sore.

As always, if you have questions about products, contact our friendly Care Team at any time by calling (855) 855-1666 or sending a message to support@carewell.com.

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Brianna Maguire
Brianna Maguire

Brianna Maguire heads up Carewell’s Customer Care Team, and serves as a resource for caregivers that need support. Whether it’s helping customers decide which products are best for their needs, answering caregiver questions, or just providing a shoulder to lean on on a tough day, her job is to make caregivers’ lives easier.