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What Is a Necrotic Wound?

By Christina Edwards
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A necrotic wound is a wound that contains dead tissue. Wounds of this sort will often be discolored and soft with a very foul odor. Necrosis in a wound can have a number of causes, including insect or animal venom. Treating a wound of this kind is extremely important, since necrosis can result in a fatal infection. Medical maggots or surgery may be required to remove any dead tissue in a wound.

Healthy tissue that has died is often referred to as necrotic tissue. When some of the tissue in a wound dies, this is referred to as a necrotic wound. These types of wounds require immediate medical attention, since they are often very serious.

A necrotic wound will usually be very discolored. Often, it will be black, but it may also be yellow, green, or white. It is also usually very soft and mushy, and it will sometimes be covered with a scab or patches of scabs. One of the most unpleasant characteristics of necrotic tissue, however, is its smell. This smell occurs when the dead tissue begins to decay, or rot.

There may be several causes of wound necrosis. Severe frostbite is one of the more common causes of necrotic tissue. When soft tissue freezes, the cells expand and often burst, causing the tissue to die. Necrosis can also occur when the blood and oxygen supply is cut off from a certain part of the body. This can occur when a string is wrapped tightly around a finger, for example.

Certain types of venom can also cause necrosis. The venom from some pit vipers can result in a necrotic wound, for instance. Brown recluse spider bites are also known to cause necrosis in victims.

Promptly treating a necrotic wound is very important, since these wounds can be fatal if they are not treated. Bacteria will typically begin to grow in the dead tissue. This bacteria will then usually spread to other parts of the body, such as the heart or lungs.

Treatment for a necrotic wound typically involves removal of the dead tissue, which is sometimes referred to as debridement. In some cases, several maggots may be placed on the wound. While this practice may seem rather unsanitary to many people, doctors have been doing it for quite some time. The maggots remove the dead tissue by eating it. Dead tissue can also be surgically removed, but this is generally more common when a necrotic wound is located on a digit or limb.

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Discussion Comments

By anon990240 — On Apr 12, 2015

My dog apparently got bit by a snake on her back paw. She has the nasty necrosis. Part of one toe is gone after almost two weeks. She keeps it clean by licking it. Not sure if that is safe. Should I keep her on antibiotics until it stops? How long will this keep going on? I have so many questions. Can anyone help? Might have to make another trip to the vet. Trying to avoid the cost.

By SarahGen — On Jul 30, 2012

@alisha-- I have not been treated with medical maggots, but my horse has. She had a horrible wound that became necrotic and her vet decided to use medical maggots. It actually worked really well, it cleaned up the wound nicely and my horse was saved from a serious infection.

Medical maggots are not the same as regular maggots. The ones used in the medical field are specially bred in laboratories. Regular maggots cannot be used because they are swarming with dangerous bacteria and viruses. Medical maggots are hygienic and safe to use for this purpose.

The only weird part about using maggots for necrotic wounds might be the sound. The vet's nurse said that she could literally hear the maggots munching away on the dead tissue during the process. That is kind of gross.

By discographer — On Jul 30, 2012

I can't believe that doctors actually use maggots for necrotic wound cleanup. I can't help but think that this would be terribly unhygienic. Unless I had a very serious necrotic wound and the only way to save my life was by putting maggots on it, I would not agree to this method.

I understand it might be hard for a surgeon to remove all of the dead tissue from a wound. But isn't there any other medical equipment that could be used instead of maggots?

Just curious, has anyone had their necrotic wound cleaned up by maggots?

What did it feel like? Was it painful or just irritating and gross?

By fify — On Jul 29, 2012

My cousin had a necrotic wound from a spider bite. At first she didn't think there was anything to worry about. But the next morning, she saw that the area around the bite had changed color and it was as though there was a hole in her skin. I guess that's what it looked like to her because of the dead tissue.

She then started to worry that she was poisoned from the spider and went to the ER. There, they cleaned up the wound although I'm not exactly sure how, and put her on a heavy dose of antibiotics. In a few days, the wound started looking much better and normal.

I'm glad she went to the hospital early on. I can't imagine how bad it might have gotten if she hadn't.

By Perdido — On Jul 29, 2012

Has anyone here ever experienced necrosis from frostbite? I have always heard that it is a possibility, but thankfully, the winters where I live are mild, so I've never really been in danger of it.

When we went to visit my grandmother in New York and I was a small child, she kept telling me to wear gloves when I went outside, because I could get frostbite and my fingers would fall off. This terrified me, so I always put on two pairs of gloves before going out.

I can't imagine suddenly having a dead finger on your hand. It would be even more terrifying to see it actually fall off!

By wavy58 — On Jul 28, 2012

Necrotic spider bites look so gross. My sister got bitten by a brown recluse, and she didn't know it until her flesh had started to rot.

She didn't feel the bite, which makes me think it got her in her sleep. Before long, the little red area started to sink in, and it kept growing. It became gooey, and she could see that it wasn't going to heal.

She had to go to the doctor and have it drained. The doctor packed the wound with gauze, because the gap left after the pus had been removed was deep.

The smell was terrible, too. I had to leave the room while the doctor did all this.

By seag47 — On Jul 27, 2012

@JackWhack – It's good that your dog was okay. Some necrotic wounds are lethal in pets, like the ones caused by venomous snake bites in specific areas.

My dog had gotten bitten by a snake in the face, and he healed up just fine. The vet said that since most dogs get bitten around the mouth, they usually don't die from snake bites.

However, she said that if certain kinds of snakes bite them on the leg and hit a vein, the leg will turn black within an hour. When this happens, there is nothing they can do to save it. The wound is necrotic, and the poison is in the bloodstream.

She did say that in her fifteen years of doctoring, she has only seen two dogs die from snake bites. I'm glad it is so rare, because my dogs live out in the country, and they encounter snakes often.

By JackWhack — On Jul 27, 2012

My dog got a necrotic wound after a fight with another dog. The other animal had ripped about a one-inch tear into his leg, and I thought that it would heal fine, because dogs are usually very resilient when it comes to wound healing.

However, within a few days, he had started to swell. It began with the area right around the wound and then it spread to his abdomen.

By the end of the week, his wound had started oozing this pinkish brown pus. Seriously, it looked like his flesh was melting right off his body. That's when I freaked out and rushed him to the vet.

She had to put him under and operate to remove the necrotic tissue. He stayed on antibiotics for a couple of weeks, and I had to flush out the area with bleach water often.

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