By: Dr. Jed H. Erickson
It’s summer, and for many of us that means a vacation near water, whether you are headed up to Redfish Lake or over to the Oregon Coast. We are excited at the prospect of swimming, boating, fishing or water skiing – there really are innumerable ways to have fun in the water. However, at the risk of putting a damper on your holiday water plans, if you or a family member has a cut or an open sore on a foot or ankle, you need to be cautious about exposing the affected skin to water.
About the Skin
You may not think of your skin as an organ, but it is, in fact the largest organ in the human body. The skin serves the essential function of a defense against anything harmful in the surrounding environment. If there is an open wound or a break in the skin, proper care needs to be taken not to expose the broken skin to potential sources of infection.
Is Salt Water Good for a Cut?
It’s quite common to believe that exposure to salty seawater or chlorinated pool water is beneficial for sores or broken skin on the feet. However, I know from experience that this just isn’t true. A combination of damaged skin and a dip in the ocean, pool, lake, or river can result in a nasty infection that can prove difficult to treat. Water can be the source of organisms that give rise to infections if they come into contact with broken skin – seawater can contain microorganisms like vibrio bacteria and fresh water can contain organisms like Aeromonas bacteria.
- Vibrio infections – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that vibriosis is the cause of 80,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the United States every year. Vibrio infections are contracted in two ways: by eating undercooked or raw shellfish, or by getting seawater in a cut or wound.
- Aeromonads – Aeromonads cause infections in fish and are associated with diarrheal disease and wound infections in humans. Wound infections can quickly become more severe and may ultimately prove fatal if the infection becomes systemic. Moreover, it’s alarming that the causative agents of these infections are becoming more and more resistant to antibiotics.
What Should I do if I Have Broken Skin on my Foot?
The most important step to take if you have a sore or a break in the skin is to make sure to keep the area clean and DRY! Use an over-the-counter antibiotic cream and a light dressing. I’m sure you won’t want to, especially if you’re on vacation, but it really is best to keep out of the water.
What About Waterproof Dressings?
Swimming with an open wound is not recommended by most public swimming pools and may even be prohibited. Most waterproof wound care products are meant to be used in the shower where exposure to water is only for a short time (plus, the water coming out of the shower is relatively clean). This is entirely different from spending a long time in water where the dressing may come off, exposing you to the risk of severe infection from whatever is in the water. The safest way to go is to stay out of the water completely.
When to Visit a Podiatrist
Many factors pertain to wound healing including overall health, systemic diseases, nutrition, proper care, and presence of infection. If a sore appears on your foot for no apparent reason, or a sore is refusing to heal in spite of an appropriate amount of time applying proper home care and treatment, seek medical attention. If you live in the Boise area, Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle can diagnose the source of your foot problem and recommend the appropriate treatment. We want you to be able to get back to enjoying your summer fun as soon as possible.