Is The Ocean Good For My Wounds?

Sea Water is not good for your Wounds!

So often we hear patients ask us if going to the beach and getting into the salty water would be good to heal their wounds.

I’ve got bad news for you – NO it would not be good.

Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love a dip in the ocean, it’s one of my all time favourite things to do!

 

But unfortunately there is a whole multitude of micro-organisms living in the ocean that can infect your wound and cause it to go septic.

 

This can start a cascade of events which can make you sick and cause your wounds to take longer to heal. 

Some people Should Never Swim With a Wound:

  • Those with diabetes,
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Any other medical condition that causes a decrease in immunity.


People in the above groups are at a significantly increased chance of infection and this can lead to systemic infections or amputations.

An open wound on a foot which shows some granulation of the base of the wound.

Some of the problems with ocean water are:

  • Possible sewerage – some beaches are closer to sewage outlets than you’d like. But the bigger issue could be from the people you are swimming with! On a hot day at Kings Beach (my local), you will stand shoulder to shoulder as several hundred bathers are squashed between the red and yellow flags. Need I say more?
  • Warmer waters – mostly the pathogens that effects humans are those that live at around our body temperature (approx 36.5deg C or approx 97deg F), because they can live on us and multiply. In very warm waters there will be a much higher chance of pathogens.
  • Grit and foreign bodies – in the surf a lot of sand, broken shells, and algae are present. These can enter through a wound and delay healing or cause an infection.

The Biggest Danger of All? A Wet Dressing.

If a dressing becomes wet and is left on the wound it allows a portal for bacteria and fungi to track into the wound. The longer the dressing remains on, the higher the likelihood of infection.

Must Do!

If you do get a dressing wet it is very important to do the following as soon as you are able to:

  1. Remove the wet dressing,
  2. Flush area with sterile normal saline,
  3. Gently pad the area dry with sterile gauze,
  4. Place a new dressing (one recommended by your podiatrist, or other health care provider) and make sure that you have an appointment booked for the next few days,

5. Looks for any signs of infection including: increased redness, more exudate (pus etc.), increased pain, systemic issues including fever and generally feeling unwell.
6. If you have any of these signs get to a doctor as soon as possible for antibiotic therapy and wound dressing.

A sterile dressing pack, some sterile saline, and a sterile dressing all placed on a stainless steel table.

Some of The Positive Effects of Swimming in the Ocean:

  • Psychological well-being – there is something intangible about having a swim. I often say that swimming at the beach is my meditation. As soon as I dive under one of those waves the cooling effect calms my nerves,
  • Great exercise – obviously swimming is a really healthy exercise – and it’s something nearly everyone can do,
  • Pain relief – the reduction in the effects of gravity on the body can reduce pain for people who suffer from it in the back and legs,
  • Great for muscles after playing sport – like taking an ice bath a swim in the cool water of the ocean can reduce the effects of lactic acid breakdown in the large muscles,
  • Reduction of inflammation – this is a hot topic of research at the moment – can cold water reduce the amount of inflammation in the body? Many believe that it can. We know that inflammation can be a major contributor to cardiac and vascular disease as it disrupts the lining of the inside of blood vessels which can cause plaques
  • It’s just fun! A swim with the family on the holidays is a wonderful way to strengthen those bonds by having fun together.
 

So Enjoy The Ocean - Just Not When You Have Wounds.

The two main things that I would recommend in relation to swimming if you are in any doubt would be:

  • Get advice from your health care provider,
  • Use a cautious, common sense approach.
  • If you do get it wet, follow the redressing guide above or that given to you by your health provider.

If you’re worried that you have a wound and it isn’t healing, give the beach a miss until you can see your health provider.

Please note that the information contained in this post is general in nature and does not take the place of professional health advice. Please always seek personal advice from a health provider.

If you need help with wound dressings or assessment of diabetic feet and legs please call 3351 8878 to make an appointment or book online with the button below.

The Dynamic Podiatry logo orange and navy with a foot in the "D"

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