What Is A Skin Tear?

Editor's note: some descriptions are graphic.

If you have ever had or seen a skin tear, you know that it will never leave your mind. The way that the skin literally peels away is incredible. One scrape, one hit, even one touch can tear the skin of the most sensitive.

Mom's worst and first skin tears

Mom’s worst skin tear was only the second one that she had. It was about four or five inches in length and about two and a half inches wide at it’s largest point. She had turned over in the middle of the night and hit her arm on the side table. Her skin literally peeled away. Thankfully it was not deep, but most true skin tears are not deep. It is literally like carefully removing the top layer of skin, leaving the rest exposed.

Thankfully, I was with mom when she had her first skin tear. She was ironically at the hospital for a test, and the bracelet got snagged on her rolling walker as she was playing with my son. It was about one inch by one inch, so it was much smaller. The funny thing is that the hospital nurse encouraged us to leave and go to her general doctor to have it repaired. She was told that she would have to sit in the emergency room to have it repaired at the hospital, and they did not think it was smart for her to sit there waiting. Also, it would cost her much more at the hospital, so we left the hospital and drove to her general doctor’s office. They helped her fairly quickly. The physician’s assistant showed me how to repair them as she was taking care of mom’s arm.

How to repair a skin tear

The bullet points to repair a skin tear are:

  1. Keep the area as sterile as possible.  Wash your hands before you start and wear gloves, if available.
  2. Clean with saline solution spray.  Even this spray can hurt, so be gentle.
  3. Cover the exposed area with the skin as much as possible.
  4. Use a generous amount of antibacterial ointment.
  5. Cover with a non-stick pad (hospital grade is best) and gauze.

It is important to remember the direction of the tear so that when you are redressing it, you don’t peel it back off.  Until you are comfortable with taking care of skin tears, you should consult with your doctor.

It was not easy

Now back to the large skin tear that mom had. My parents were staying at my house at that time, so thankfully I was with her. My father called my cell phone in the middle of the night to have me come downstairs to help. I took one look and knew that I had to do something. She was such an amazing woman. I know that her pain tolerance was high, but it may have been higher than I even realized. She let me work with the skin until I had covered almost the entire tear. There was only a small area (maybe a tenth of an inch) all the way around that the skin did not meet. It was not easy! There was quite a bit of praying going on too!

In this process we learned that the more of the tear that you can cover with the skin, the better. It will hurt less that the areas that are exposed, and it will heal better.

About a month later, she was visiting one of her doctors, and he noticed the scar.  He asked her if she’d had a skin graft.  She didn’t understand fully and explained what had happened.  At that time we learned that what I had done worked great.  He was amazed at how well it looked.

Just be gentle and calm

She had too many skin tears to count.  Most did not go back together as well as the big one, and many were created by the smallest amount of pressure. I remember one that was created by my baby girl’s elbow.  Another was made with the movement of a nurse’s gloved finger as she removed a tourniquet. It is not easy to see your loved one so easily hurt.  Skin tears are not easy to fix, so as a caregiver, probably the most important thing for you to remember is to remain calm.  The calmer you are, the better you can react and the more relaxed your loved one will be. Remember, you can do more than you think you can. Just be gentle and be calm.

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