OUCH! I was hiking in the Bighorns and my footing slipped! After sliding down an embankment, I fell onto a tree branch, sustaining a puncture wound to my calf. I quickly used my hydration pack to rinse my leg off, and bandaged it up until I got home.
Once home, I thought about the best way to care for this hole in my leg. Over the years, I had heard of so many different ways to treat a wound. Do I use soap or hydrogen peroxide to clean the wound? Do I use antibacterial ointment or not? Should I cover the wound, or leave it open? What’s a gal with a hole in her leg to do? Fortunately, I know someone who helped me separate wound care myths from best-practice regarding wound care. Let’s tackle these one at a time!
Myth #1: Hydrogen peroxide is best for cleaning out a wound
Truth: Best practice for cleaning a wound is to use soap and clean water or a saline wound wash. Saline wound wash is the same pH as your body and irrigates the wound with minimal pain. Soap and water is readily available and is extremely effective at removing bacteria. Hydrogen peroxide should NOT be used to clean wounds. Those tiny bubbles that are “getting the wound nice and clean” are actually causing cell death and can inhibit healing (1). Studies show that hydrogen peroxide has no additional antimicrobial properties over plain tap water, and can be painful to boot (2)! Alcohol should not be used to clean out a wound, as it also harms healthy tissue!
Now that the wound is nice and clean, what is next?
Myth #2: Using Triple Antibiotic ointment( ie. neosporin), will heal the wound faster.
Truth: Triple Antibiotic Ointment (TAO) is marketed to prevent and fight infections and speed healing of wounds. However, there is little data to support these claims and in clinical trials, TAO is not more effective than simple petroleum jelly (3). Most wounds heal just fine without antibiotic ointment, and you may develop a rash from the ointment. Approximately 11% of people have an allergic response to neomycin, an ingredient in antibiotic ointment (4). Unnecessary use of antibiotics can also contribute to bacterial resistance. Bacterial resistance creates “superbugs” and decreases the efficacy of traditional antibiotics. To keep a wound moist, applying simple petroleum jelly is most effective.
Now, our wound is clean and we have applied a small amount of petroleum jelly to keep our wound optimally moist for healing…now what?
Myth #3: Leaving a wound uncovered to scab over will help it heal faster.
Truth: Keep a clean bandage over that wound! Bandages prevent germs and dirt from entering the wound, and studies show that a moist or ‘wet’ environment will heal a wound at a faster rate than in a dry environment. Scabbing contributes to scarring, as well! (5). Bandages should be changed frequently when the wound is draining.
We’ve waded through these wound care myths, and now know how to treat our wound! Clean the wound with soap or saline wash, use no ointment or simple petroleum jelly, and keep it covered with a clean bandage!
As always, if there are signs of infection (heat, redness, pain, swelling), GO TO YOUR PROVIDER!! Deep wounds are often tricky, as are complex wounds. We can also be a resource for you, if you want us to take a look!
Good luck hiking and stay safe!