One of the under-appreciated methods of dealing with localized or regional infections is the hot soak. Some years ago there was an article in the Port Townsend Leader by one of Port Townsend's elder citizens considering a severe hand infection he had in the 1930s. As antibiotics were not yet in use then, he was placed in the hospital. His doctor feared he might need to amputate the hand, and asked the nurses to give him around-the-clock hot moist compresses. These were so hot that they scalded the skin of his hand. However, within a few days the swelling resolved, the infection cleared entirely and he regained full function.
Why Do Hot Soaks Work So Well?
The heat vastly increases blood flow into the area. This brings with it more oxygen, more nutrients, and more white blood cells. If you are on antibiotics, the increased blood flow will ensure that more antibiotic is delivered to the area that it is needed.
If there is pus, the hot moist compress will promote optimal drainage of the infected tissue and prevent premature closure of the wound, which can lead to festering and repeat infection.
Do I Need to Use Salt in the Water?
If there is exposed tissue, plain water can irritate it. Use ¼ teaspoon salt in each 8 ounces of water to prevent this and reduce pain. If little tissue is exposed, this is not necessary.
Hot Soaks for Hands and Feet
Heat water to boiling in a saucepan and place it on a hot pad on table. Also place an empty bowl on the table. Assuming that your household hot water is about 130 degrees (the normal recommended temperature for household hot water), run hot tap water into another basin or bowl, then immerse the infected part.
Once the water has cooled off a bit, add more water from the saucepan. Empty cooled water as needed into the empty bowl. Over a period of 10 or 15 minutes, repeat this procedure each time the water cools.
As time goes on you will find you can tolerate more heat. Be careful not to burn yourself.
Infections in the region of the anus, and hemorrhoids as well, also respond well to hot water when used as a sitz bath. In this time-proven method, you prepare a clean bathtub, then add a couple of inches of comfortably hot water. Sit yourself in that water. As time passes, you'll be able to increase the heat. Again, be careful not to scald yourself. As with all hot water application, multiple short sessions work much, much better than fewer long sessions.
What doesn't work? Hot shower directed to your buttocks. (Not enough heat transfer.) A regular tub bath. (You can't get it as hot, it takes too long to do four a day, and you get no extra benefit from heating the rest of your body.)
Hot Soaks for Parts You Can't Immerse
If you just take a washcloth, run it under the hot water tap and put it on the infected area, you will find that the washcloth will cool off in about one minute. Therefore, choose one of the methods below.
Hot Bag Method
Sew about a pound of rice or rock salt into a hot-pad shaped bag. Heat the bag in a microwave oven. Be sure it is not too hot. Assuming that your household hot water is about 130 degrees (the normal recommended temperature for household hot water), soak a clean washcloth under the hot water tap, squeeze lightly and place on the infected area. Cover this with a plastic bag, then the hot bag. Be careful not to burn the skin. This will stay warm about ten to fifteen minutes. Depending on the temperature of the hot bag, you may wish to cover everything with a dry towel for insulation.
Water Basins Method
Heat water to boiling in a saucepan and place it on a hot pad on table. Also place an empty bowl on the table. Assuming that your household hot water is about 130 degrees, put a clean washcloth under the water tap, soak it, squeeze lightly and place on the infected area. Cover this with a plastic bag and a dry towel for insulation. This will then stay warm about three or four minutes rather than one minute.
Once the washcloth has cooled off a bit, squeeze the cloth into the empty bowl, lightly dip the center of the washcloth into the steaming hot water, allow this to cool for a few seconds and replace it on the infected area, always being careful to avoid burning or scalding yourself. Again, apply the plastic bag and the dry towel.
Over a period of 10 or 15 minutes, repeat this procedure each time the washcloth loses its heat.
As time goes on you will find you can tolerate more heat. Again, be careful not to burn yourself.
Four Times a Day
Do this at least four times each day for the first few days. Use a fresh washcloth each time. Multiple short hot soaks during each day are far better than one long hot soak once a day. As the infection improves, you can decrease the frequency.
Drug Resistant Bacteria
We have all heard of drug-resistant staph. I have recently heard a number of infectious disease specialists discuss this subject and, while there are measures we can take in terms of careful use of antibiotics, the mainstay of treatment is still as it was 100 years ago. That means incision and drainage of any abscesses and aggressive hot soaking.