Human - Fact or Fiction: Dispelling myths about taking care of your wound

Fact or Fiction: Dispelling myths about taking care of your wound

By Diane Mirlocca RN, WOCN, IIWCC

There’s reams and reams of information available on the internet these days on how to take care of a wound. The problem: is the information ‘Fact or Fiction’? Today we’re looking at a few long-standing recommendations to see if they are indeed, fact or fiction.

“Clean that wound up and just leave it open to dry. “Let it breathe”--You don’t need a bandage on that. It will heal in no time”. My mother truly believed this to be true. After-all, a wound heals faster when exposed to air, right?

FICTION. In the early ‘60s Dr. Winter researched what healed wounds faster:  drying them out or keeping them moist by covering them up.  He proved that covering a wound and keeping the wound surface moist resulted in faster healing.  He also proved that a wound kept covered and moist (not wet) heals twice as fast as one left open to air.

Healing a wound involves the growth of new skin cells—cells that repair the damaged area. They need water to do that. A person cannot swim in a pool without water; so it is with cells—they need water to work and to live.  Keeping the wound covered by an appropriate dressing provides this moist wound environment. Covering a wound also protects it from further injury and helps to keep dirt and germs from getting in, reducing risk of infection.   

If you are anything like me, a scab is fair game…. pick, pick, pick it off…is it healed yet? Guess what? Each time you remove a scab you’re re-injuring the wound, delaying healing even further. 

There are a number of  wound care products on the market and that may make the choice difficult.  Check with your local pharmacist, nurse or doctor if you need guidance.

 FACT: wounds healing better when they’re covered and kept moist—as moist as your eye.

Rubbing alcohol is the best product to clean a wound.  Hydrogen peroxide is good too: the bubbles shows it is working right?  SCRUBBING BUBBLES! Fact or Fiction?

FICTION: Rubbing alcohol (alcohol) is not the best product to clean a wound.  While rubbing alcohol is a good germ killer, it also kills any living cell—including ones needed to heal a wound. Alcohol is known to dry and irritate the skin on and around the wound. It will cause burning—especially when put in the wound! OUCH! (that ouch bears repeating!).  And while alcohol is a good germ killer, it changes the pH of skin—the body’s natural defense against germs.   Once the skin’s pH changes it can create an environment where bacteria can grow. Quite opposite to what you wanted to have happen.  

FACT: alcohol is not recommended to clean a wound.

OK…but hydrogen peroxide is good right?  Well, like alcohol, hydrogen peroxide can kill germs as well as the healthy cells needed to heal the wound. Those lovely bubbles you see may be cleaning the wound, however, at the same time the hydrogen and oxygen are breaking and apart releasing oxygen molecules. Why is that a concern? The oxygen released by the bubbles can enter the blood stream—especially if you have a deep wound, and may cause an air embolism and other complications. For this reason alone, hydrogen peroxide is not recommended. If you need another reason not to use hydrogen peroxide, it is quite irritating to the skin.

FACT: Cleaning cuts or wounds with hydrogen peroxide can be harmful rather than helpful.  NEVER use hydrogen peroxide in a deeper wound.

What should you use instead? Soap and potable (drinkable) water, saline (salt) solution (from a drug store or in a first aid kit) or  wound cleanser solutions specifically designed to clean wounds.  

Itching tells me my wound is healing.  SCRATCH, SCRATCH, SCRATCH Fact or Fiction?

FICTION: Itching or tingling of the skin around or on the wound does not always mean your wound is healing. Itching may be a sign of infection, allergic reaction to the medication you’ve been given, or an allergic reaction to the dressing or treatment you’re using. If the skin around a wound turns red, or the wound is draining more, or the drainage looks different (e.g. from thin to thick or it smells) or if the itching feels painful—any or a combination of these signs may be an infection. See your doctor as soon as possible if this happens.

FACT: an itching wound is not always a sign of healing.

Small boo boos can be left untreated and will heal just fine. Fact or Fiction?  


As we mentioned earlier, any wound can become infected.  Small cuts or scrapes, even the painless ones, can become medical issues—especially true for people with diabetes, those with immune problems, children, elderly or those with chronic medical conditions.

It is important to remember that all wounds are a sign of trauma. Once the skin is damaged or broken the potential for infection is present.  Intact skin is our body’s first line of defense against infection.  Trauma to the skin presents an opening for bacteria to enter the body. 

FACT: Any wound must be cleaned and covered with a bandage or dressing that will protect it from germs and keep the wound moist.  

The internet is the go-to source for information today; however, how do you know what sources will give you the facts? Check websites associated with professional clinical support for example:  Instride, McMaster University, Mayo clinicWebMD. These are just a few reliable sources.  Your healthcare professional will be able to direct you to sites containing the best available evidence.  And don’t forget to confirm the information you find with your healthcare professional to separate the facts from fiction. Happy hunting!


Diane Mirlocca

Diane Mirlocca

Diane is a registered nurse (RN) with over 30 years of healthcare experience, specializing in wound and ostomy care. Her sense of humour and practicality has helped hundreds of ostomates patients live richer lives.
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