Common myths about wound healing – debunked
As we age, our skin weakens and becomes more prone to injury. At the same time, normal wound healing slows and wounds that may have healed easily when we were 20 can turn into chronic, nonhealing wounds at 50.
At the wound center where I practice, we see and treat many types of wounds, including those caused by diabetes mellitus, peripheral arterial disease (PAD), burns, trauma, pressure and lymphedema.
We have an infusion center, hyperbaric chambers, and use compression wraps and other specialty dressings and products to assist in healing those especially difficult wounds. We also work with a variety of specialists, including vascular specialists, surgeons, podiatrists and infectious disease experts.
No matter the cause of the wound, I am always intrigued by the common myths and attitudes people believe about healing wounds. I have even heard these ideas from doctors who refer patients to my practice. However, using these methods can slow or even stop the healing process. Some of the common myths include:
- MYTH: Keep the wound open to air and let it dry out or at least let the air get to it at night. Fact: The standard in wound care is to always keep a wound covered and moist. The idea of “moist” wound healing has been around since the 1960s and there have been many, many, randomized clinical trials showing that all else being equal, a wound that is kept covered and moist will heal faster than a wound that is dried out.
- MYTH: Let the wound develop a scab because a scab is a good thing. Not true! A scab develops when the wound is allowed to dry up. A scab makes it harder for new skin cells to cover the wound. A scab can also trap inflammatory tissue and bacteria, which can lead to slower wound healing and a greater chance of infection.
- MYTH: Rubbing alcohol and/or hydrogen peroxide will keep the wound clean. Fact: Rubbing alcohol hasn’t been shown to be any better than using plain tap water to clean out a wound. Hydrogen peroxide is no better. Some studies show that hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol can kill normal tissue and cells that are trying to heal a wound. The bottom line is that the repeated use of rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide can be harmful to the wound-healing process.
- MYTH: Topical or oral antibiotics should be used to help heal a wound. Fact: There are times when antibiotics are necessary to help heal a wound, but only when the wound is infected and then for just seven to 10 days. Continued use may only breed bacterial resistance. See your primary care provider if you think your wound is infected.
- MYTH: The use of a doughnut cushion can help relieve pressure and heal pressure ulcers (“bed sores”) faster. Fact: Most medical supply stores unfortunately still sell doughnut-type cushions for the treatment of pressure sores. However, they have not been found to help and can often lead to worsening of the pressure sore. Experts repeatedly advise against the use of doughnuts for the prevention and/or treatment of pressure wounds.
- MYTH: Sea water (ocean water) has qualities that help wounds to heal. Fact: Unfortunately, sea water also has bacteria and other contaminates that can lead to wound infection and harm the wound-healing process. Sea water is not recommended to help in healing wounds.
My advice is to always cover and protect your wound and keep it moist to give it the best chance of healing quickly. If you think your wound is infected or it is just not healing, please see your primary care provider.
Dr. Thomas Erskine is board-certified in internal medicine and director of the Center for Wound Care, a NorthBay affiliate, in Vacaville. He has specialized in wound care for the past 12 years.
Dr. Thomas Erskine