BY LISA WARREN
Cuts and scrapes. They're an inevitable part of life.
But they don't have to become a hard-to-heal nuisance, says family nurse practitioner Angela Johnson, of the Center for Wound Healing at Takoma Regional Hospital.
Johnson was the guest speaker at a health-education lecture sponsored Nov. 8 at Roby Fitzgerald Adult Center by Takoma Regional Hospital.
The title of her talk was "To Dress or Not to Dress: The ABCs of Wound Care."
One of the most frequent questions that Johnson says she gets asked about wound care is what to put on an injury and how to take care of it.
"The goal of wound care is to prevent infection," Johnson said, "and to create an environment that encourages rapid wound healing."
Gone are the days when your mothers or grandmothers were advised to pour iodine, peroxide, rubbing alcohol - or some other topical antiseptic - into your cut and then send you back outside to play.
Johnson said there are many myths and wive's tales that surround wound care.
Most notably is the myth that wounds "need air" in order to heal, she said.
"Wounds need to stay moist - and stay covered - in order to heal," Johnson said.
Having a wound exposed also makes it more likely for bacteria to enter the site, Johnson said.
The use of the betadine, peroxide or rubbing alcohol is not good either, she added.
While these products can kill bacteria, they will also kill "good cells" on the skin that can aid in wound healing, Johnson explained.
"You don't want to use these products for an extended length of time - and typically not at all," she said.
When you first cut yourself - or discover that you are injured - your first step should be to clean the wound site immediately, Johnson said.
Make sure your hands are also washed and clean in order to prevent bacteria from entering the wound as you treat it, she added.
Cleaning the wound with regular, running tap water is the best thing in order to clean any dirt or debris in the wound, Johnson said.
River and lake water can contain many types of bacteria that can cause significant infection. It is not recommended to clean wounds with contaminated water.
Stop bleeding by applying pressure using a clean cloth. Most bleeding will stop within 10 minutes, at which point, a dressing can be placed over the wound.
"If you keep a wound covered and moist, it will heal quicker," Johnson said.
What about the use of an antiobiotic ointment, such as Neosporin?
Neosporin is a triple antibiotic cream containing three antibiotics: neomycin, bacitracin and polymyxin.
Some folks are big believers of triple antibiotic ointments while others feel they are unnecessary.
The reason is that antibiotic ointment is not necessary for a minor wound to heal correctly, experts say.
Plus, neomycin, one of the three antibiotics, can cause allergic reactions in some people, Johnson said.
This allergic reaction (what doctors call allergic contact dermatitis) can cause redness, itching and burning. It can look a lot like an infection. Therefore, a person may think that their cut is becoming infected and place even more triple antibiotic ointment on it, making the dermatitis worse.
Treating a minor cut or scratch is mostly about keeping it clean and covered until it heals, Johnson said.
If you are unable to get a wound to stop bleeding, then you should seek medical treatment at an emergency room.
Also, if the wound is large and/or jagged or if you suspect that you have a foreign object or debris in the wound, then you should seek medical treatment, Johnson said.
For persons, such as those with diabetes, who have some sort of medical condition that keeps their body from healing correctly, then they should talk to their doctor about the best way to handle minor cuts and scratches, she said.
Remember animal and human bites should always be seen by a medical professional because of the high rate of infection.
Also, it is important to know a person's tetanus immunization status (for example, has the person had a tetanus shot or booster vaccine in the last five years) so that it can be updated with a tetanus booster if needed.