How does incontinence damage the skin?
- Urinary incontinence is a loss of bladder control and if not treated properly, can damage the skin. When skin is exposed to moisture and urine for long periods of time, it loses its ability to protect against friction, bacteria, and fungus. Extended exposure to urine can raise the skin’s natural pH levels, and those higher levels can actually encourage the growth of bacteria. The excess moisture will also lower the skin’s temperature and reduce skin’s blood flow when under pressure.
What injuries can incontinence cause?
- Incontinence-Associated DermatitisThis is caused by repeated exposure of skin to urine that results in skin inflammation. This can manifest in a variety of ways, including redness with or without blisters, erosion, and the loss of the skin’s barrier function. The injured skin may also have induration, or be firmer than the surrounding tissue. In addition to being very painful, the skin loses its ability to protect itself and surrounding tissue. The moisture from the urine causes the skin to become over-hydrated and when the skin contains too much moisture it is not longer to act as an effective barrier.
- Pressure Ulcers: Pressure ulcers are formed when there is continuous pressure being placed on part of the body. The pressure prevents a constant blood supply, which contains oxygen and nutrients, from reaching the tissue. Without these nutrients, the tissue is damaged and will eventually die. The lack of a constantblood supply means that the ulcer is also vulnerable to infections. The amount of pressure being applied and the skin’s vulnerability to damage will determine how long the ulcer takes to form. Incontinence increases the risk of developing pressure ulcers because the moisture from urine can break down the epidermis, the outer layer of skin, and because moisture reduces skin’s blood flow, which we mentioned earlier.
- Maceration: Maceration is when the skin becomes waterlogged due to overexposure to moisture. When incontinence causes maceration, the skin becomes very fragile and can be damaged from friction, shear, and pressure. Macerated skin is so fragile that gentle rubbing from bed linens and wash cloths can cause injury.
- Bacterial Infections: Incontinence allows the surface of the skin to come into contact with urine and other waste products. Urine contains ammonia, which raises the pH of skin and can serve as a source of nutrition for bacteria. Bacterial infections can be especially dangerous for the elderly with dry skin because skin cracks and fissures can absorb micro-organisms.
- Fungal and Yeast Infections: Seniors with incontinence are at high risk for fungal and yeast infections. When the skin is exposed to urine, it creates a warm, damp environment, which is ideal for fungi. Fungal infections will result in a skin rash that itches, burns, and fiery red and are usually found in skin folds.
There are many ways to prevent and treat the damage caused by incontinence. We at Senior Home Advocates are committed to providing excellent service and quality products to the seniors and the families we serve. To learn more detailed information on how to care for your incontinent loved one download our free Educational eBook or call (714) 921-9200.