Skin ulcer: Causes, types, symptoms, and treatments

Skin ulcers can take a very long time to heal. If left untreated, they can become infected and cause other medical complications.

These ulcers can form on any area of the skin. Depending on the type, they are especially common on the legs, mouth or lips, hips, and bottom.

This article discusses types, symptoms, diagnosis, and home remedies for skin ulcers.

What are the symptoms?

Skin ulcers look like round, open sores. They range in severity and are usually minor injuries on the skin.

In severe cases, ulcers can become deep wounds that extend through muscle tissue, leaving bones and joints exposed.

The symptoms of skin ulcers include:

  • discoloration of the skin
  • itching
  • scabbing
  • swelling of the skin near the ulcer
  • dry or flaky skin around the ulcer
  • pain or tenderness near the affected area
  • clear, bloody, or pus-filled discharge from the ulcer
  • a foul odor coming from the area
  • hair loss near the ulcer

Venous skin ulcers

Arterial (ischemic) skin ulcers

Neuropathic skin ulcers

Bedsores or pressure ulcers

Buruli ulcer

Stasis dermatitis

Types of skin ulcer

People can develop the following types of skin ulcer:

Venous skin ulcers

Venous skin ulcers are shallow, open sores that develop in the skin of the lower leg as a result of poor blood circulation.

Damage to the valves inside leg veins prevents blood from returning to the heart. Instead, blood collects in the lower legs, causing them to swell. This swelling puts pressure on the skin, which can cause ulcers.

Arterial (ischemic) skin ulcers

Arterial ulcers occur when the arteries fail to deliver enough oxygen-rich blood to the lower limbs. Without a steady supply of oxygen, the tissues die and an ulcer develops.

Arterial ulcers can form on the outside of the ankle, feet, and toes.

Treatment for skin ulcers depends on the severity and the underlying cause of the ulcer.

A person can treat a skin ulcer at home if it is small and does not show signs of infection. Treatments for mild ulcers focus on preventing infection. Keep the ulcer clean and covered, if it is not leaking.

Signs of an infected ulcer include swelling, pain, drainage, or a foul odor. People who notice any of these symptoms require medical attention.

Treating a severe ulcer involves:

  • removing dead tissue to stimulate the healing process
  • using oral or topical antibiotics to treat any bacterial infection
  • taking pain medication to relieve discomfort

Poor circulation is a major contributing factor to skin ulcer development. Improving proper circulation can help treat and prevent ulcers.

Some ways that may improve circulation and prevent ulcers include:

  • wearing compression stockings
  • elevating the legs
  • quitting smoking
  • exercising regularly
  • maintaining a healthy body weight


If a person does not receive treatment, skin ulcers can progress into chronic wounds or dangerous infections.

Some complications of untreated skin ulcers include:

  • cellulitis, a bacterial infection affecting deep layers of skin and soft tissue
  • septicemia, or blood poisoning from a bacterial infection
  • infections in the bone of joints
  • gangrene, which is tissue death as a result of poor blood supply

Home remedies

People may be able to reduce the symptoms of mild skin ulcers and the risk of infections and complications with the following home remedies:


Turmeric contains curcumin, a chemical that possesses anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and antioxidant properties. Because of the curcumin, turmeric may help heal skin wounds.

After cleaning the affected skin, try applying a generous amount of turmeric powder to the ulcer. Then cover it with a clean bandage.

Saline water

Saline solution is a sterile mixture of distilled water and salt. People can use saline solution to cleanse and remove dead skin from ulcers.

Regular saline solution contains only 0.9 percent salt, so it should not irritate the ulcer. People can buy saline solution in stores or make their own at home. Learn how to make saline solution at home here.


Honey possesses powerful antimicrobial properties, due to its high concentration of sugar and polyphenols. Results of several laboratory and clinical studies suggest that honey is effective against many bacteria associated with skin disorders.


Skin ulcers develop as a result of poor circulation, infections, or prolonged pressure. Treating an ulcer early can reduce the risk of infection and serious complications. Infected ulcers may require draining and antibiotic treatment.

People can prevent skin ulcers by:

  • treating medical conditions that cause poor circulation, such as varicose veins, venous insufficiency, and diabetes
  • quitting smoking
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • avoiding sitting or lying the same position for too long

A person should speak with a healthcare provider if they suspect that they have a skin ulcer, or if a wound is healing very slowly.

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