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How is honey used on wounds?

People have used honey for thousands of years for wound healing. While we now have other very effective wound-healing options, honey may still be good for healing certain wounds.

Honey has antibacterial properties and a unique pH balance that promotes oxygen and healing compounds to a wound.

Before you reach into your cabinet, know that wound-care professionals use medical-grade honey for healing chronic wounds and other injuries.

Read on for more information on the right and wrong times to use honey for wound healing.

Honey is a sugary, syrupy substance that has been shown to have bioactive components that can help heal wounds.

According to a literature review published in the journal Wounds, honey offers the following benefits in healing wounds:

  • Acidic pH promotes healing. Honey has an acidic pH of between 3.2 and 4.5. When applied to wounds, the acidic pH encourages the blood to release oxygen, which is important to wound healing. An acidic pH also reduces the presence of substances called proteases that impair the wound healing process.
  • Sugar has an osmotic effect. The sugar naturally present in honey has the effect of drawing water out of damaged tissues (known as an osmotic effect). This reduces swelling and encourages the flow of lymph to heal the wound. Sugar also draws water out of bacterial cells, which can help keep them from multiplying.
  • Antibacterial effect. Honey has been shown to have an antibacterial effect on bacteria commonly present in wounds, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE). Part of this resistance may be through its osmotic effects.

Most medical professionals use a specific type of honey on wounds called Manuka honey. This honey comes from Manuka trees. Manuka honey is unique in that it contains the compound methylgloxal. This compound is cytotoxic (kills bacteria) and is a small molecule that may pass more easily into the skin and bacteria.

For severe wounds, it’s best a doctor or wound-care nurse shows you how to apply the honey the first time. This is because the amount of honey and the way the dressing is applied can impact how effective the wound-healing will be.
  • Always start with clean hands and applicators, such as sterile gauze and cotton tips.
  • Apply the honey to a dressing first, then apply the dressing to the skin. This helps to cut down on the messiness of honey when applied directly to the skin. You can also purchase honey-impregnated dressings, such as MediHoney brand dressings, which have been on the market for several years. An exception is, if you have a deep wound bed, such as an abscess. The honey should fill the wound bed before a dressing is applied.
  • Place a clean, dry dressing over the honey. This can be sterile gauze pads or an adhesive bandage. An occlusive dressing is best over honey because it keeps the honey from seeping out.
  • Replace the dressing when drainage from the wound saturates the dressing. As honey starts to heal the wound, the dressing changes will likely be less frequent.
  • Wash your hands after dressing the wound.
  • dizziness
  • extreme swelling
  • nausea
  • stinging or burning after topical application
  • trouble breathing
  • vomiting