Hydrogen peroxide can damage healthy cells when you use it to clean a wound, this doctor says. Here’s his advice on minor wound treatment–starting with plain old water.

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It’s now featured here as part of our new general-health section.]

first-aid-kitby John Torres, M.D.

Q. Is hydrogen peroxide good for cleaning minor cuts?

A. For years, people have used hydrogen peroxide to clean out wounds. Sometimes it’s used straight and other times diluted with water. Either way, its bubbling action makes it look like it’s doing its job by loosening up dead material and cleaning out bad bacteria.

The problem is that hydrogen peroxide not only does this but also damages the healthy cells trying to heal the wound. It can therefore slow down healing, making the wound stay open longer, which can lead to more infections.

To clean out a cut right after it happens, run it under tap water for a few minutes-until all the debris is gone. Later on, as the wound starts to heal, you can use water or over-the-counter wound cleaners to keep it clean. One is essentially as good as the other on clean wounds or ones with limited scabbing. With extensive scabs, cleaners, like ConvaTec Shur-Clens Wound Cleanser, can help you keep the wound debris-free.

Using an antibacterial ointment for the first seven days of healing can also help keep it from getting infected. If you have dried blood around the wound, a solution of half water, half hydrogen peroxide will get it off better than water. Just don’t get it in the wound.

Of course, see a health-care provider for individual advice or for treatment if the cut is bad.

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Board-certified emergency-medicine physician
JOHN TORRES, M.D., is the medical director and owner of Premier Urgent Care in Monument, Colo., and medical anchor at KDVR-TV (Fox) in Denver.

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Original article appeared in the September/October 2009 issue of My Family Doctor magazine.

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