Peroxide on a cut

If one of the first things you do when you cut yourself is flood the wound with hydrogen peroxide, STOP!

I know you think the bubbling action is awesome and proof that it’s doing what it was meant to do — killing all the bad stuff. Well, here’s what wound specialist Dr. Walter Keller has to say about hydrogen peroxide: “The hydrogen peroxide bubbling releases pure oxygen, which kills bacteria but also the healthy cells, slowing down wound healing.”

In other words, hydrogen peroxide does not help heal the wound; it does just the opposite. Rubbing alcohol is also something you shouldn’t use to clean the wound itself.

How to clean a wound

Cleaning the wound as soon as possible is important and Dr. Keller says it’s best to use a saline solution, which is a 0.9 percent salt solution. If saline isn’t available, use lukewarm tap water. Hold the wound under the running water or fill a tub and pour the water from a cup. The longer the better, because you are trying to remove all the dirt, bacteria and debris. Don’t scrub with a washcloth because you may cause even more damage and increase the risk of infection. And don’t touch it with your hands unless you are wearing medical gloves or have washed them with soap and water. You are trying to avoid infection, not welcome it.

Hand washing

How to wash your hands

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
  • Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well. Be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
  • Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

How to stop bleeding

If the wound is bleeding try to stop it by applying direct pressure continuously for five minutes, using layers of dry gauze or tissue. Remember to make sure your hands have been washed thoroughly or wear gloves. When the bleeding stops, clean the wound and put on a clean dry dressing, says Dr. Keller.

No antibiotic ointment?

You don’t need to put on any antibiotic cream or ointment. Studies have shown that neither lowers the risk against infection. Washing it well and keeping the wound clean and covered is your best protection. Make sure to let your doctor know immediately if you see any signs that the wound might be infected.

Signs of infection

  • Localized redness
  • Heat
  • Swelling
  • Pain

Protected and moist promotes the best healing

Dr. Keller says wounds should be kept moist, not dry because, “It keeps cells alive. If you let it dry out the cells die like an old shriveled up piece of fruit. Think sliced apple after a few hours.”

When you let the wound dry it’s more likely a scab will form, which, believe it or not, can interfere with the healing process. They may be nature’s way of protecting against germs, but because healthy skin cells have to work their way under the scab to form new tissue it can slow things down. Scabs are also more likely to leave scars and some people are obsessed with picking them, which slows down healing and increases the risk of infection.

Keep the wound moist by covering it with a non-stick bandage that absorbs fluids while maintaining a natural moisture balance. Some people use hydrocolloid bandages, which create an environment that’s almost like a second skin. Change the bandage daily and don’t forget to scrub your hands first. When you reapply the bandage, if you think it needs some additional moisture, Dr. Keller recommends a product called Hydrogel, which he says is available over the counter at most pharmacies.

Pulling off the band aid

When you take off an adhesive bandage, it is NOT a good idea to rip it off quickly because you risk reopening the wound or damaging surrounding tissue. Instead, peel it off slowly and gently. If it’s in a hairy area and you want to minimize the pain, pull it in the same direction as the hair growth.

When you shouldn’t try to do it yourself

If the wound is big, deep, extremely painful, won’t stop bleeding or has something in it that you can’t get out, you need to see a medical professional. If it needs stitches, to lower the risk of infection you should get medical attention within six to eight hours after the injury.

What if the wound won’t heal?

Making sure your hands are scrupulously clean or wearing medical gloves whenever you tend to the wound will go a long way in creating the best healing environment. But, if your wound doesn’t heal within four weeks, you need to see your doctor or a wound care specialist. As for that bottle of hydrogen peroxide in your medicine chest, no need to toss it. It supposedly has lots of other uses, from cleaning windows and mirrors to removing mold.

Do you have any other first aid questions? Send them to me in the comment section below or by email and I’ll do my best to get you an answer.