A Guide to Managing Wound Odor in Hospice

As hospice professionals, you understand that caring for patients with wound odor is common. Unpleasant odors can be distressing for both the patient and the caregiver and impact the quality of care. In this article, we’ll look at the causes, assessment, and treatment of wound odor and provide practical strategies for managing wound odor in a hospice setting.

How to treat wound order in hospice care

How does wound odor affect patient care?

Wound odor can negatively affect the emotional well-being of patients, caregivers, and family members, leading to embarrassment, isolation, and depression. Furthermore, strong wound odors can interfere with a hospice patient’s eating ability, especially if the patient can’t swallow well. Hence, effective wound odor management is crucial to ensure patient comfort and support caregivers in providing the best possible care.

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What are the causes of wound odor?

Bacterial infection

The primary cause of wound odor is the presence of bacteria in the wound bed. As bacteria break down tissue and cellular debris, they produce various compounds, such as ammonia and volatile sulfur compounds, contributing to the unpleasant smell.


Necrotic (dead) tissue within the wound also contributes to odor production. As this tissue breaks down, it releases foul-smelling substances, making odor control more challenging.

Tumor-related factors

In some cases, wound odor may be associated with malignant tumors. Odors can result from tumor necrosis, bacterial infection, or the production of certain chemicals by the tumor itself.

Assessment of Wound Odor

Regular wound assessment

To effectively manage wound odor, it is essential to perform regular wound assessments. Assessments include documenting the wound’s appearance, size, and depth, as well as the presence and intensity of the odor. Use a standardized odor assessment tool, such as the Wound Odor Assessment Scale (WOAS), to ensure consistency and accuracy.

Identifying the odor cause

Understanding the underlying cause of the odor is crucial to selecting the most appropriate treatment. For instance, if the odor is due to bacterial infection, antibiotic therapy may be required. If necrotic tissue is the primary cause, debridement may be necessary.

How to manage wound odor in hospice care

How to Treat Wound Odor in Hospice Care

Wound cleansing

Maintaining proper wound hygiene is essential for odor control. Cleanse the wound with a saline solution or a prescribed wound cleanser to help remove debris, bacteria, and dead tissue.


Removing necrotic tissue through debridement can significantly reduce wound odor. This can be done using mechanical, enzymatic, or autolytic methods, depending on the patient’s condition and the wound’s characteristics.

Topical treatments

Various topical treatments can be used to help control wound odor, including:

  • Charcoal dressing: Activated charcoal dressings can absorb odor-causing bacteria and gases, effectively reducing wound odor.
  • GCP (Gentamicin/Clindamycin/Polymyxin B) or Dakins solution: Apply these solutions to gauze and place it on the wound bed
  • Moisten 4 – 8 washcloths and apply spearmint toothpaste to one washcloth at a time. Work the toothpaste into the washcloth as if you had a bar of soap in the washcloth and were attempting to get more lather from the bar of soap. Place the mint-smelling cloths around the patient.

Crushed Flagyl for Wound Odor

Metronidazole (Flagyl): Crushing a tablet and applying it to the wound bed can help manage odor, especially when combined with an antimicrobial cream such as Silvadene.

Odor Control Strategies in Hospice Care

Several methods can help control the odor in the patient’s environment:

  • Aromatherapy: Essential oils, such as lavender or eucalyptus, can help mask odors and provide a calming atmosphere.
  • Mint-scented washcloths: Moisten washcloths and apply spearmint toothpaste to them, then place them around the patient.
  • Cat litter or charcoal briquettes: Place new, unused cat litter or charcoal briquettes under the patient’s bed to absorb odors. 

How to Manage Wound Odor Going Forward in Hospice Care

Wound odor management is essential to ensure patient comfort and support caregivers in providing the best possible care. In this section, we discuss practical strategies for managing wound odor in hospice care, taking into account causes, assessments, and treatments.

Regular wound care

Consistent and regular wound care helps minimize odor by reducing the amount of bacteria and dead tissue in the wound bed. Ensure wound dressings are changed as the hospice care team recommends and follow proper wound hygiene protocols.

Monitoring for changes

Stay vigilant and monitor the wound for any appearance, size, depth, and odor intensity changes. Alert the hospice care team if any significant changes are observed, as this may indicate a need for adjustments in treatment.

Nutrition and hydration

A well-nourished and hydrated patient can heal and manage wound odors better. Encourage patients to consume a balanced diet and stay hydrated, supporting the body’s natural healing processes.

Open communication

Maintain open communication between patients, caregivers, and the hospice care team. Discuss any concerns or issues related to wound odor openly to ensure everyone is on the same page and working together to manage it effectively.

Emotional support

Acknowledge the emotional impact of wound odor on patients and caregivers, and provide support as needed. This may include counseling, support groups, or simply offering a listening ear.

Hospice Education and resources

Ensure patients and caregivers have access to educational resources and wound care and odor management training. Knowledge is empowering and can help build confidence in managing wound odor effectively.

By implementing these strategies, hospice professionals can provide effective wound odor management for their patients and improve the overall quality of care.


How do you treat a foul smelling wound in hospice care?

  1. Clean the wound gently with saline solution or mild soap and water.
  2. Apply topical antibiotics or antiseptics as prescribed.
  3. Use odor-absorbing dressings, like charcoal or silver dressings.
  4. Keep wound dry and change dressings regularly.
  5. Manage pain with appropriate medications.
  6. Monitor for signs of infection.
  7. Maintain a clean environment and practice proper hand hygiene.
  8. Consult the hospice care team for further guidance and treatment adjustments.

How do you know if a wound is necrotic?

A wound may be necrotic if it exhibits signs such as black, brown, or yellowish tissue, foul odor, a leathery or hardened texture, and surrounding skin discoloration or inflammation. Pain, pus, or oozing can also indicate infection. If you suspect necrosis, consult your hospice care team for a proper diagnosis and treatment to prevent complications.

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