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. Your doctor may refer to them as “decubitus ulcers.” 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 on certain areas of skin. Learn how you as a caregiver, can help prevent and treat bedsores.

First, to understand and successfully treat bedsores, be sure you’ve spoken to a healthcare professional about your concerns.

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

Stage one - Red and warm to the touch

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. They can appear on many areas of the body, but often show on hips, buttocks, back of the head, elbows or shoulders.

Stage two - More sensitive and painful

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 - Wound grows, becoming crater-like

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

Stage four - Exposed muscle or bone

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 pressure ulcers occur? What are the causes?

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, as a result of loss of blood flow.

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.

What are the risk factors of bed sores?

The most common risk factors are:

  • Immobility. Those that are bedridden or in a wheelchair are at a higher risk of developing bed sores. Be sure to reposition loved ones at least every two hours.

  • Age. Aging can make skin more fragile, making it more difficult to recover from pressure.

  • Incontinence. Excessive moisture can lead to skin breakdown and increase the risk of skin damage.

  • Medical conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease can decrease blood flow, making it more susceptible to damage.

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. Repositioning a loved one takes some of the pressure off of bony areas, preventing sores and pressure injuries.

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 bedsheets are all steps in the right direction.

If your loved one experiences urine or bowel voids, keep them dry with high-quality incontinence products. Proper skin care, like regular cleansing and drying, can go a long way to prevent sores.

What should you do when you have a bedsore?

First and foremost, be sure you’re consulting a healthcare provider when deciding the best options for treating affected areas. While it’s possible to both prevent and treat pressure ulcers at home, a healthcare provider can assess your unique circumstance and ensure care is as safe and helpful as possible.

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 wound care supplies.

  3. Repeat daily.

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

What are the top-selling products for wound management?

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

1. 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 Features & Benefits:

  • Non-cytotoxic, meaning it does not cause damage or harms to cells

  • Rubber and latex-free

  • Safe for all types of wounds

Hear it from a caregiver

"So much easier to use than the cans of saline I used to buy! Spraying is easier!"

-Mary Y.

McKesson Dermal Wound Cleanser, NonSterile
McKesson Dermal Wound Cleanser, NonSterile

Price: $7.99 - $35.07

2. 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.

Key Features & Benefits:

  • Non-cytoxic

  • Through, effective, and gentle cleaning

  • Promotes wound healing by promoting moist healing environment

Sea-Clens General Purpose Wound Cleanser
Sea-Clens General Purpose Wound Cleanser

Price: $12.30 - $12.99

3. 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. 

Key Features & Benefits:

  • Excellent alternative to gauze and tape

  • Combines absorbent non-adherent pad with a breathable border (making this a great all-in-one dressing)

  • Non-adherent pad supports comfortable and safe removal

Hear it from a customer

"I've tried several brands and types of coverings and I really like these best. It absorbs a lot and does not irritate or pull my skin. Very comfortable."

-Kathy H.

McKesson Adhesive Dressing, Rectangle
McKesson Adhesive Dressing, Rectangle

Price: $8.99 - $196.16

4. 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

Medihoney Calcium Alginate Dressing
Medihoney Calcium Alginate Dressing

Price: $13.00 - $119.10

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. According to the Mayo Clinic, “If you notice warning signs of a bedsore, change your position to relieve the pressure on the area. If you don't see improvement in 24 to 48 hours, contact your doctor.”

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 (800) 696-CARE or sending a message to support@carewell.com.

Did you find this article helpful?Share it, print it or have it mailed to you!

Other Articles You May Like

What is MEDIHONEY?

Humans first discovered the medicinal benefits of honey more than 5,000 years ago, but the sweetener didn’t receive FDA clearance until 2011, when New Jersey-based medical devices company, Derma Sciences, Inc., introduced their MEDIHONEY® hydrogel to the market.

Find out more about Medihoney >

What are Perineal Cleansers?

Incontinence care requires more than routine changes, accident prevention, and emotional support. See how perineal cleansers can help!

Medically Reviewed by Kiera Powell, R.N.

Find out more. >
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.