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Tunnel wounds are hard-to-heal injuries that extend deep beneath the skin’s surface. A tunneling wound typically looks like a narrow channel or tract that extends from the initial wound’s surface, deeper into the surrounding tissue, creating pockets or dead-end passages within the layers of the subcutaneous tissue.

What makes tunnel wounds particularly difficult to treat are their limited visibility, slow healing, and their high risk of developing serious, life-threatening infection.

Distinguishing tunnel wounds from undermining wounds

Tunneling wounds look, act, and heal differently from undermining wounds, which allow separation of the wound edges from surrounding tissue, often creating a “pocket” under the wound surface where abscess formation can occur. 

The treatment of tunneling wounds is also different from undermining wounds. While caring for tunnel wounds involves careful wound packing and periodic wound cleansing, undermining wounds benefit from stimulating surface tissue regrowth and relieving the tension around the wound.

What causes a tunneling wound?

Tunnel wounds, which are also called sinus tracts, often result from a chronic wound or slow-healing injury. Pressure ulcers, diabetic ulcers, and infected surgical wounds increase the risk factors that can trigger a tunneling wound. Those who are bedridden are also at a higher risk of developing tunneling wounds.

Ulcers and sores leave the skin surface open and the underlying tissues exposed. That leads to persistent inflammation and pathological wound tract changes that encourage the formation of wound tunneling. In the case of surgical wounds, the wound site can become infected, eroding the stressed surrounding tissue and encouraging the formation of tunnels. Regardless of the initial cause of the wound, the longer the injury remains inflamed, the more severe the wound tunneling can become.

What makes each tunneling wound uniquely complicated and hard to care for is that on the surface of the skin, the wound often looks minor and treatable. But just below the skin, the extent of the wound tunnel can be significant, extending deep between the tissue layers and quickly filling with infection

Only a careful wound assessment, which may involve measuring the wound tunnel with a sterile object, or running a CT scan or MRI, can adequately determine the tunnel’s depth and the damage to underlying tissue.

Follow these wound care tips to optimize wound healing and prevent tunneling wounds

The first step in treating tunneling wounds is killing the infection-causing bacteria in them. Efficient and quick infection management decreases patient discomfort, enhances mobility, and improves patient outcomes.

There are a few ways medical professionals can help a tunneling wound heal properly:

  • Using adequate wound dressings. Dressings soaked in or placed over an application of Dakin’s Solution foster granulation tissue formation, a key component in wound healing.
  • Rinsing away exudate, dead tissue, and bacteria. Irrigating the wound removes foreign debris, infection-causing bacteria, and dead tissue that can get in the way of healthy tissue formation.
  • Creating a bacterial barrier. Using dressings, wound rinses, or a topical ointment prevents bacteria from re-entering the tunneling wound and slowing wound recovery.
  • Utilizing negative pressure wound therapy (NPWT). This advanced treatment involves decreasing air pressure at the wound surface with a vacuum pump, which helps reduce swelling and remove bacteria.
  • Establishing a moist wound healing environment. A moist wound bed helps optimize tissue recovery by keeping the surrounding area soft and healthy.
  • Minimizing the pain and wound trauma of dressing changes. Using a wound rinse like Dakin’s Solution to gently loosen and remove clinging dressings lessens the disruption of the sensitive wound bed and keeps healthy tissue in place.

Each of these wound care methods can be supported by the use of cleansing, irrigating, and debriding solutions that optimize wound healing and keep the site clean. While there are a few options wound care professionals can choose from, we recommend using Dakin’s Solution to manage many types of wounds, even before wound tunneling is identified.

Why use Dakin’s Solution to support wound healing?

Dakin’s Solution is a reliable ally in the fight against infection. Developed on the battlefield of WWI, the original full-strength formulation saved the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers wounded in combat. Today, a similar buffered formulation is still used by wound care physicians for ulcers, surgical incisions, burns, tunneling wounds, and more in hospitals and clinics across the country.

Dakin’s Solution is sodium hypochlorite-based, and is stable enough to remain effective even in the presence of bodily fluid—and up to two years after opening. Dakin’s Wound Cleanser, for example, supports the tunnel wound healing process by eradicating 99.9999% of MRSA, VRE, and a wide range of infection-causing and biofilm-forming bacteria, without slowing tissue recovery or damaging healthy skin. Plus, it’s antibiotic- and steroid-free.

To learn more about using Dakin’s Solution on a tunneling wound, read our instructions for use or talk to our team.

Tunneling wounds make wound care complicated. But with the proper wound care plan in place—and proven tools for maintaining an optimal wound healing environment, you can achieve stronger patient outcomes and greater overall wound health.

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Have questions about our line of wound care products? Contact our team.