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Skin, Mouth and Eye Assessment and Hygiene in the Critically Ill Patient

Speciality Classification
Start Date
11 m

1. Skin Care

Tissue viability care is required whenever there is potential or actual risk to tissue health.

Tissue health is affected by both irreversible and reversible factors, therefore reducing these threats promotes tissue health.

Some irreversible factors include the ageing process, and reversible factors include poor perfusion, oxygenation and nutrition. The first section of this article will briefly focus on reducing reversible factors that can cause pressure ulcers (Mallet 2013).

Pressure Ulcers

Pressure ulcers are a localised injury to the skin and underlying tissue, usually over a bony prominence, caused by constant focused pressure, shear force or friction to the one spot (EPUAP/NPUAP 2009a, b). Critically ill patients are at especially high risk; therefore, all critically ill patients need pressure area care.

Factors that Contribute to Pressure Ulceration

  • Pressure: any intense or prolonged pressure, usually from body weight, deprives skin and soft tissue cells of oxygen and nutrients (Hampton and Collins 2004).
  • Shear force: results from two parts of body tissue moving in opposing directions (Reger et al. 2010).
  • Friction: caused by two objects rubbing against the other (Reger et al. 2010), possibly due to poor moving and handling technique. Friction injuries can also cause abrasions, superficial ulceration and blistering.

Pressure Ulcer Risk Assessment

Pressure care management is essential in the critically ill patient as they generally have several of the below risk factors present. Consider using a validated risk assessment tool to support your clinical judgement. Any indication of risk should be followed by action.

Some risk factors include:

  • Severity of illness
  • Inadequate tissue perfusion due to haemodynamic instability
  • Co-morbidities, especially vascular disease
  • Malnutrition
  • Faecal incontinence
  • Inability to reposition themselves
  • Significant loss of sensation
  • Immobility

(Mallet 2013)

When Performing a Pressure Ulcer Risk Assessment:

  • Risk assessment should be undertaken within 8 hours of admission to the hospital or first visit in community settings (NICE 2014).
  • Examine patient’s entire skin for skin damage by looking at and touching the skin from head to toe, with an emphasis on bony prominences and skin folds.
  • Reassess pressure ulcer risk if there is a change in patient’s clinical condition such as deterioration or after surgery.
  • Patient’s skin should be inspected on an ongoing basis depending on the clinical setting and the patient’s degree of risk.
  • Patient’s skin should be examined before the patient is discharged.
  • Always follow your local policy or recommendations for risk assessment, documentation and how to communicate information to the multidisciplinary team ( Mallet 2013).

Every skin assessment should include any pain or discomfort reported by the patient. Check for:

  • Skin temperature
  • Oedema
  • Colour changes or discolouration

Localised heat, oedema and colour change or discolouration may be warning signs of pressure ulcer development (NPUAP 2014).

Skin Risk Prevention

Some risk factors can be reduced by:

  • Optimising hydration: dehydration impairs perfusion (Wakefield et al. 2009).
  • Maximising nutrition: malnutrition increases pressure ulcer occurrence (Terekeci et al. 2009). Enteral nutrition can reduce the incidence of pressure ulcers (Stratton et al. 2005).
  • Repositioning: helps to minimise shear and friction. Encourage patients to change their position frequently. If patients are unable to reposition themselves, a careful risk assessment should be made by the multidisciplinary team to formulate an individual care plan (Takahashi et al. 2010).
  • Pressure-redistributing equipment: selection of suitable equipment should be based on individual risk assessment, the care setting and the patient’s clinical condition (Bell 2008).

Any signs of actual or potential threats should be assessed and documented, and appropriate action taken to promote healing and prevent further skin damage.

2. Mouth Care

Oral care is an essential nursing activity that provides relief and comfort to patients who are seriously ill and cannot perform simple activities of daily living themselves.

The oral cavity and other parts of the mouth are perfect media in which bacteria can live and thrive. Therefore, all parts of the oral cavity should be assessed each time the mouth is cleaned (Mallet 2013).

Assessment of Oral Cavity

  • Follow any oral assessment tool available within your hospital, to ensure consistency and to facilitate a thorough examination.
  • Ensure you have sufficient light to visualise as much of the oral cavity as possible.
  • Ensure head is appropriately supported (e.g. with pillows) to prevent trauma or discomfort.
  • Ensure linen is not touching patient’s lips as linen can cause drying and discomfort.
  • Document care and any abnormalities to provide an accurate record, monitor effectiveness of the procedure, facilitate communication and continuity of care

(Mallet 2013)

Oral Cavity Care

  • Lips: assess for ulceration or ‘cracking’, mainly caused by dryness, dehumidified oxygen via facemasks, damage from endotracheal tape/holder. Provided there is no sign of infection, apply a lubricant such as a soft yellow paraffin, humidify face mask oxygen and, if possible, prevent tape securing endotracheal tube from touching lips especially at the corners of the mouth). If not possible, change the position of tapes on lips at least once daily and use any available aids to reduce trauma.
  • Teeth: assess for damaged or broken teeth caused by trauma or poor oral hygiene. Sit patient upright (unless contraindicated), clean teeth with a toothbrush, usually twice daily.
  • Gums: assess for bleeding, possibly caused by trauma or poor hygiene. Clean gums when cleaning teeth.
  • Saliva: assess for excess, lack of high viscosity (possibly caused by objects in the mouth such as an endotracheal tube (ETT)), dehydration. Moisten mouth if dry and increase the frequency of moistening mouth.
  • Tongue: assess for dark colour and dryness, possibly caused by reduced perfusion and dehydration.
  • If the patient can clean his/her own teeth, they should be encouraged to do so

(Mallet 2013)

Denture Hygiene

  • Remove dentures from an unconscious patient to prevent airway obstruction.
  • Remove dentures overnight from patients who are conscious, to facilitate cleaning.
  • Brush dentures with a toothbrush to remove debris.
  • Rinse dentures under running cold water and dry thoroughly. Dentures can be damaged if left dry or cleaned in hot water (Clarke 1993).
  • If not worn by the patient during the day, store dentures safely in a labelled denture pot within the patient’s own property (Mallet 2013).

3. Eye Care

Vision is one of the main senses and means of communication for most people. Impaired vision can, therefore, contribute to delirium.

Ocular diseases rarely require critical care admission, but pre-existing conditions may need continuing treatment, such as eye drops (Dawson 2005).

Eye care refers to measures that maintain ocular health and comfort. In critical care, this usually means care given to protect eye surfaces from potential harm and treatments for specific (acute or chronic) problems, and care of visual aids such as glasses and contact lenses (Mallet 2013).

The aim of eye care is to:

  • Prevent potential harm/trauma.
  • Treat any identified problems.
  • Care for and clean any visual aids.

Factors that expose eyes to potential damage in critical care may include:

  • Inability to protect own eyes.
  • Impaired tear production.
  • Intraocular hypertension.
  • Drying with oxygen from face masks (un-humidified oxygen or non-invasive ventilation).
  • Deep sedation: impairs blink reflexes and possibly tear production (Parkin and Cook 2000).
  • Trauma from equipment such as ventilator tubing, tapes to secure ETT and linen ( Mallet 2013).

Suspected ocular infections should be recorded and communicated to relevant health professionals.

Eye Assessment

Eye health assessments should be part of the routine patient physical assessment and be performed on admission, followed by an ongoing assessment at the beginning of each new nursing shift.
Assessment should include:

  • Follow any eye assessment tool used within your hospital.
  • Ensure the patient’s head is supported at a sufficient angle to prevent periorbital oedema and intraocular hypertension.
  • Ensure linen (especially seams) and equipment are not in direct contact with either eye. Anything touching the eye surface can cause trauma.
  • Both eyes should be visualised for assessment (Cooke et al. 2011).
  • If the patient normally uses visual aids (glasses, contact lenses), this should be documented, whether aids are present or absent, in use or not.
  • Aids should only be used if the patient wishes and if they are conscious and in a suitable position (upright). (Mallet 2013).


  • Bell, L 2008, ‘Evaluation of and caring for patients with pressure ulcers’, American journal of critical care, vol. 17, no. 4, p. 348.
  • Clarke, G 1993, ‘Mouthcare and the hospitalised patient’, British Journal of Nursing, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 225-7.
  • Dawson, D 2005, ‘Development of a new eye care guideline for critically ill patients’, Intensive and critical care Nursing, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 118-22.
  • Cooke, K, Doyle, N & Farley, A 2011, ‘Patient comfort’, in Dougherty, L & Lister, S (eds) The Royal Marsden Hospital manual of clinical Nursing procedures (8e), Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • European Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel and National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel 2009a, Prevention and treatment of pressure ulcers: a quick reference guide, EPUAP/NPUAP, National Pressure ulcer advisory Panel, Washington DC.
  • European Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel and National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel 2009b, Treatment of pressure ulcers: Quick reference guide, EPUAP/NPUAP, National Pressure ulcer advisory Panel, Washington DC.
  • Hampton, S & Collins, F 2004, Tissue Viability, Whurr Publishers, London.
  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence 2014, Pressure ulcers: prevention and management, NICE, viewed 18 June 2018, https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg179/chapter/1-recommendations#prevention- adults.
  • National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel 2015, Preventative Skin Care, NPUAP, viewed 18 June 2018, https://www.npuap.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/2.-Preventive-Skin-Care-M-Goldberg.pdf
  • Mallet, J, Albarran, J & Richardson, R 2013, Critical care Manual of Clinical Procedures and competencies, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford.
  • Takahashi, M, Black, J, Dealay, C & Gefan, A 2010, ‘Pressure in context’, in Baharestani, M, Black, J, Clark, M et al. (eds) international Review. Pressure ulcer prevention: pressure, shear friction and microclimate, a consensus document, pp. 11-8, Wounds International, London.
  • Reger, SI, Ranganathan, VK, Orsted HL et al. 2010, ‘Shear and friction in context’, In: Baharestani, M, Black, J, Carville, K, Clark, M, Cuddington, J, Dealey, C et al. (eds) international Review. Pressure ulcer prevention: pressure, shear friction and microclimate, a consensus document, pp. 11-18, Wounds International, London.
  • Stratton RJ, Ek, AC, Engfer, M, Moore, Z, Rigby, P, Wolfe, R & Elia, M 2005, ‘Enteral nutritional support in prevention and treatment of pressure ulcers: a systematic review and meta-analysis’, Ageing Research Reviews, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 422-50.
  • Terekeci, H, Kucukardali, Y, Top, C, Onem, Y, Celik, S & Oktenli, C 2009, ‘Risk assessment study of the pressure ulcers in intensive care unit patients’, European Journal of Internal Medicine, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 394-7.
  • Parkin, B & Cook, S 2000, ‘A clear view: The way forward for eye care on ICU’, Intensive care medicine, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 155-6.
  • Wakefield, BJ, Mentes, J, Holman, JE & Culp, K 2009, ‘Postadmission dehydration: risk factors, indicators and outcomes’, Rehabilitation Nursing, vol. 34, no. 5, pp. 209-16.

Author Lydia Nabwami

Lydia Nabwami is registered nurse who has worked in various healthcare settings including cardiac ward, cardiac critical care unit (ITU), general ITU, A&E department, nursing homes and community nursing. She uses her experience as a RN to write well-researched content that helps to attract and motivate audiences. Lydia is also a freelance writer for hire with specialisation in health writing and has helped numerous companies with their content needs. Her work has appeared on sites such as Caring Village, Reachout, Lisa Nelson RD and more. When she isn’t writing, you can find her listening to motivational speeches, keeping active or playing with her two daughters. Contact Lydia or visit her website at Lnwritingservices.co.uk for more information on her services. See Educator Profile

Skin, Mouth and Eye Assessment and Hygiene in the Critically Ill Patient
Speciality Classification
Provider Type
11 m
Start Date
CPD Points
11 m
Price Details
$30 p/m
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