Science Questions with Surprising Answers
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Dr. Christopher S. Baird

How often should hydrogen peroxide be used to treat wounds?

Category: Health      Published: April 4, 2013

By: Christopher S. Baird, author of The Top 50 Science Questions with Surprising Answers and Associate Professor of Physics at West Texas A&M University

hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide should never be used to treat wounds because it does more damage than good. Public Domain Image, source: Christopher S. Baird.

Hydrogen peroxide should never be used to treat wounds as it does more harm than good. In fact, no antiseptic should be used to treat wounds. While highly reactive chemical agents such as hydrogen peroxide do indeed kill some bacteria, they do more damage to healthy cells that are attempting to heal the wound. This fact has been known to mainstream science for almost 100 years. During World War I, military doctors followed medical folklore and treated soldiers' wounds with antiseptics, and yet the soldiers still died from infection at an alarming rate. Biologist Alexander Fleming approached the issue scientifically. According to the biography of Fleming written by Beverly Birch, Fleming discovered that those whose wounds were treated with antiseptics had higher death rates and slower healing times than those whose wounds were not treated at all. Surprised by this finding, Fleming conducted a controlled laboratory experiment that confirmed that antiseptics are harmful. In the years that followed World War I, scientists engaged in a hunt for a treatment that would kill the infectious bacteria without harming the patient's healthy cells or natural immune system. A decade after World War I had ended, Alexander Fleming discovered that Penicillin, a juice excreted by mold, selectively kills bacteria. Through the work of Fleming and other scientists, Penicillin was developed into a powerful medical treatment. The age of modern antibiotics had been launched. Because antibiotics kill bacteria without harming the body's cells, they can be taken internally and reach the bacteria below the skin's surface. Thus antibiotics proved useful in not only treating surface wounds, but also cured internal diseases caused by bacteria such as strep throat, syphilis, gangrege, and tuberculosis.

If a wound is serious, the victim should seek out professional medical help, as the wound may require stitches. If the wound is minor enough to be treated at home, antiseptics such as hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, Purell, iodine, salt, or baking powder should never be applied to the wound. While antiseptics effectively kill bacteria with little harm when applied to the outside of healthy skin, they do more harm than good when applied to wounds. Instead, minor wounds should be pressed until the bleeding stops, gently rinsed with water, treated with antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin or Polysporin, and then bandaged to keep out dirt. The Mayo Clinic states, "After you clean the wound, apply a thin layer of an antibiotic cream or ointment such as Neosporin or Polysporin to help keep the surface moist. The products don't make the wound heal faster, but they can discourage infection and help your body's natural healing process." The A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia, which is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, advises "Apply antibacterial ointment and a clean bandage that will not stick to the wound."

Topics: antibiotic ointment, antibiotics, antiseptic, hydrogen peroxide, treating wounds, wound