Kids health

A cut above: healing children's wounds

Exposing the myths and facts about healing your child's wounds

By Connie Sarvis, RN
A cut above: healing children's wounds

Every parent’s heart sinks when her carefree kid comes home in tears with a banged-up knee or a nose gushing like Old Faithful. Although kissing it doesn’t always work, with the right information you can make it better. Read on for the latest facts to help heal your child’s scrapes, cuts, burns and bites.

Myth: Use hydrogen peroxide to clean the cut.
Fact: Guess again! Hydrogen peroxide is toxic to the healing cells in the wound. Unfortunately, it is sold over the counter and many parents use it to try and disinfect their child’s cuts and abrasions. The better option? Pick up a gentle saline solution at the drugstore or just use soap and water.

Myth: Is the wound red? Rub on antibiotic cream.
Fact: Putting ointment on a child’s cut may make you feel better, but is not always necessary. In fact, a small amount of redness is normal during the first two to three days. But, if the redness persists or worsens, see your doctor. To help mild infections, use bandages or cream (available from your doctor) that contain silver (see Cutting Edge).

Myth: Apply butter or an ointment on burns immediately.
Fact: Definitely not. Butter and other oily substances seal in the heat and can actually extend the burning deeper. Instead, cool (not ice cold) water should be flushed over the burn for approximately 10 minutes to stop the burning process. Head to emergency for burns with blisters or open areas, as well as large burns and those on the face. If you’re not sure whether it’s serious, it’s always better to pay your doctor a visit. (See Red Alert.)

Myth: Yellowish-brown goo on a wound means it is infected.
Fact: Actually, it’s just a normal part of the healing process. This wet goop contains dead cells that need to come off. It occurs after the acute phase of injury and usually doesn’t have any odour. Keeping the wound covered and moist will actually melt the layer off. Be sure to look under the bandage daily — redness, swelling, warmth or an increase in fluid coming from the wound means it’s time for a trip to the doctor.

Myth: Leave the wound open to the air and keep it dry.
Fact: Remember your mother’s advice? Don’t take it! Your child’s boo-boo should be covered until healed. Not only do dressings keep it clean, they keep it moist and help maintain the temperature needed for healing. Burns, cuts and scrapes should never be dry — wound tissue needs hydration much like our bodies do. The moisture provides the cells with nutrients and also contains enzymes that help fight infection. Attention parents: Moist wounds are less painful and cause less scarring than dry scabs.

Myth: Some wounds take longer to heal than others.
Fact: In a healthy child, most wounds should heal within two to three weeks. However, if there are no signs of healing after 10 to 14 days, you should see a doctor or, preferably, a skin and wound specialist.

Myth: Itchiness indicates healing.
Fact: Not necessarily. Itching around a cut could be caused by sensitivity to the dressing, or an infection such as yeast or a fungus. Parents should be vigilant; if it’s significantly bothering the child, see a doctor. A good rule of thumb: Watch for any rash-like symptom. If none arises, your little one is on the road to recovery. See First-Aid Facts.
Red Alert
See any of these signs in a cut, scrape, burn or bite? It’s time to visit your doctor.

• redness or hardness
• sudden increase in yellow or green goo that flows and soaks the dressings
• increase in size
• increased pain
• foul odour
• area hot to touch
• fever
• sudden or increased bleeding
• wound doesn’t appear to be healing after 10 to 14 days

Cutting Edge
These new treatments will make healing quicker and easier for your kids.

What it is: Added to dressings, bandages and creams, which you can get at the drugstore. Curad and Elastoplast make different varieties.
What it does: Helps fight infection.
Where it’s used: Mildly infected cuts, burns and bites.

Wound Glue
What it is: Medical glue applied by doctors to both edges of the wound (usually cuts).
What it does: Works instead of stitches to hold edges of skin together. As the cut heals, the glue is “shed” from the skin.
Where it’s used: Best for young children because freezing isn’t necessary — no needles! Wound glue keeps bacteria out (unlike stitches) and causes less scarring, so it’s good for facial injuries.

Polymer Compound
What it is: A synthetic and natural plastic-like material that comes in a powder form. A cotton-type swab applicator is available for nosebleeds, while it is just sprinkled on cuts and wounds.
What it does: Acts to stop bleeding instantly by creating an artificial clot.
Where it’s used: Cuts and nosebleeds. Although currently hard to get in Canada, it should be available at drugstores next year.
First-Aid Facts
Ouch! Take action immediately with these steps to soothe your child’s boo-boos.

• Rinse the burn immediately with cool water for about 10 minutes. Warning: DO NOT use ice as it may stop the blood flow to the area and make the burn worse.
• Remove jewellery, clothing and footwear on legs or arms that are burned.
• Disposable diapers should be removed for any burns underneath — they retain heat!
• Cover the burn with a sterile dressing.
• If in doubt, seek medical attention — NEVER underestimate the seriousness of a burn.

• Immediately rinse with saline solution or soap and water.
• If you can see dirt or gravel in the cut, wash it out under running water.
• If the cut is bleeding, apply pressure for a minute or so.
• If bleeding is severe or does not stop with pressure, seek medical attention.
• Apply a dry dressing and change it daily.

Bee, Wasp and Hornet Stings
• Be careful removing the stinger left by honeybees. Gently scrape it out with a credit card or dull knife. Bees leave behind a stinger attached to a venomous sac; pulling it straight out may release more venom, but scraping it sideways avoids that.
• Wash the area gently with soap and water.
• Apply ice packs (or frozen vegetables) wrapped in a cloth for a few minutes to reduce swelling and relieve some of the discomfort.
• For pain: Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
• For itching: Take an oral antihistamine such as Benadryl or rub calamine lotion on the area.
• For swelling: Apply a corticosteroid cream.

Seek medical help when:
• The sting occurs in the mouth or nose.
• The face swells or there are large areas of swelling.
• Wheezing or tightness in the chest or throat occurs. Warning: These can be signs your child is having an anaphylactic reaction — get to the nearest emergency room as soon as possible.

This article was originally published on Jul 28, 2006

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