Medical honey wound dressings have long been perceived as an alternative, and thus unproven and ineffective, treatment.
It’s not even two years ago that I asked my sisters surgeon about his opinion on these natural wound care products.
Not surprisingly, the medical professional’s answer was that there was no clinical evidence for such alternative remedies and that they are not of any use in Western medicine.
Update: just yesterday I asked my doctor to prescribe me sterilized Medihoney. He looked at me with an uncomprehending glance. He then said, “Oh that’s stuff they put on skin sometimes”. I informed my general practitioner that Medihoney is a registered medical device. Therefore, it should be available on prescription (in some countries). My doctor however replied that “he does not prescribe alternative medicine”. Even though it had was the fourth time I had been on consult and his prescriptions only worsened my condition. So much for being open to innovation and patient suggestions.
Narrow-mindedness and ignorance however, are diminishing, also in the medical world. As a matter of fact, alternative remedies on a broader scale are being accepted and looked into more than ever.
As is the case with medical honey wound dressings. Current evidence confirming the antibacterial properties and additional beneficial effects of medical honey on wound healing is encouraging other wound care professionals to use these remedies.
Fortunately so, since these less conventional treatment modalities have various benefits.
They offer a powerful alternative to antibiotics which are known to be highly toxic and to have negative effects on the human body such as destroying healthy bacteria, and may even promote future infections. Frequencies of bacteria becoming antibiotic resistant are increasing around the world which is why viable alternatives are so hard needed.
Some studies even indicate topical application of honey to be “useful in the treatment of post-surgical wounds that are infected and do not respond to conventional systemic and local antibiotic treatment”. (PubMed).
The importance of prevention and proper management of surgical site infections
The infection of a surgical incision, aka ‘surgical site infection’ (SSI) is a common problem after surgery that can have serious consequences.
A 2002 survey report suggests that about 10% of the patients incur a hospital acquired infection (HAI) related to surgical wounds. Then there’s also wound infections that occur after discharge.
Even though most surgical site infections (SSIs) are superficial, they can cause severe side effects, complicate illness, cause discomfort and anxiety, and contribute significantly to disease and death associated with surgery.
Other potential consequences:
- risk on systemic infection
- longer hospital stays
- increased chance on excessive scar tissue.
Reasons to use medical honey wound dressings after surgery
The best known medical grade honey dressings with standardized antibacterial activity, are Medihoney™ products. These are CE-certified wound dressings made from New Zealand’s manuka honey. Also referred to as Active Leptospermum Honey, the most researched honey in the world. L. scoparium honey demonstrates to have an inhibitory effect on around 60 species of bacteria.
These are the main benefits of using medical honey on your surgical incision wound.
1. They are effective
The main advantage of using these dressings is that they work really well. Not only do they speed wound healing. Moreover, these medical devices have shown to work where other remedies proved inefficient.
Just one example is the case of a 12 year old boy with a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) wound in Children’s Hospital Medical Centre, University of Bonn, Germany. The wound, a result of a surgery in which a abdominal lymphoma was removed was treated during 12 days with a local antiseptic (octenidin). When this treatment led to no improvement. Medihoney™ was applied and two days later the wound was free of bacteria. Source: PubMed.
Another example: New York doctors used manuka bandages when other traditional treatments curing a severe infection failed. By doing so they averted a leg amputation. Source: The New Zealand Herald.
2. Medihoney dressings can be used in all wound healing phases
Medihoney dressings, thanks to their unique, plant-derived properties, are beneficial throughout all phases of wound healing.
Contrary to, for example, silver dressings which are only recommended for short term use due to their toxicity, these dressings can be used for prolonged periods of time.
3. Dressing changes are less painful
There’s less discomfort during dressing changes because of honey’s high sugar content. It keeps the wound surface moist by canalizing fluids from the surrounding tissues to the wound.
4. Wound odor is controled
Foul wound odor causes discomfort and embarrasment for the patient as well as visitors and family members which may lead to social isolation in these patients.
In one study the experience of a female patient with relapsed breast cancer after chemotherapy and irradiation is mentioned. According to her husband, other members of the family would not enter her room, because her wound smelled like a ‘dead rabbit’. After two weeks of medical honey application the wound odor had dissappeared.
5. There are virtually no side effects
As with all topicals, adverse effects may occur. After all every individual is different and some people’s skin is more sensitive than that of others.
Two main side effects have been reported regarding the use of medical honey.
- In about 5% of the patients a stinging pain occurred after administration.
- Two (children) out of 150 patients showed allergic reactions to Medihoney™.
Additional benefits of honey as a wound dressing
Other beneficial effects (not unique to Medihoney medical honey dressings) are:
- the creation of a moist healing environment which stimulates autolytic debridement ( a process in which the body’s own enzymes and moisture are used to re-hydrate, soften and finally liquefy damaged, dead, and infected tissue to achieve its removal.) It must be noted that all occlusive dressings create a moist healing environment.
- insulation of the wound offers protection from contaminants and is also useful in preventing the spread of MRSA (by providing a physical occlusive barrier).
- also honey’s high viscosity acts as a protective barrier preventing infection
- by removing exudate honey infused dressings help manage inflamed wounds
- easy to use
- require changing only every few days (depending on which type is used)
- there are no reports of microbial resistance to honey
- do not cause trauma on removal.
- provide effective occlusion; can have a softening effect on dry wounds
How do Medihoney dressings work?
Honey in itself already is a remarkable product. It’s one of the few foods that do not spoil. Honey in sealed pots found in Egyptian pharaohs graves was still edible.
Applied to wounds it reduces pain and speeds healing because of its anti-inflammatory action. Aside its eternal shelf life honey has been used for centuries in wound care because of:
- its acidity
- honey is known to reduce wound pH which stimulates healing
- its lack of water
- its high sugar content (high osmolarity) hinders microbial growth
- osmotic activity enhances autolytic debridement.
- its presence of hydrogen peroxide which is an natural antimicrobial agent
Honey is different from other sugars because of its acidity. Honey’s pH is between about 3 and 4.5 which kills off anything trying to nestle in honey.
“Honey in its natural form is very low moisture. Very few bacteria or microorganisms can survive in an environment like that, they just die. They’re smothered by it, essentially.”
There’s however something else to certain types of honey such as Manuka honey.
What is so special about Manuka honey?
Active Leptospermum Honey is high in a substance called methylglyoxal. Methylglyoxal supports the antibacterial property of honey in addition to hydrogen peroxide.
Methylglyoxal is the major antibacterial component in manuka honey and Medihoney dressings. It is also what the MGO and UMF ratings on jars of manuka honey refer to. The higher the concentration of methylglyoxal, the stronger the antibiotic effect and thus the more potent its healing properties.
In a randomized controlled study active Leptospermum honey demonstrated to increase healing, reduce infection, and stimulate desloughing. Desloughing is important since in chronic wounds, the desloughing phase is often the healing phase that obstructs tissue reconstruction. Source: Wiley Online Library.
Medical honey wound care products
Medihoney comes in gel and paste and patches including HCS, honeycolloid and calcium alginate dressings. Their active Leptospermum honey content varies from 63% to 100%.
From 100% sterile Medihoney in a tube, to Medihoney Alginate and Medihoney Honeycolloid Wound Dressings each has its own specific use.
Honey has always been used in wound care. Ancient civilizations already knew of its uses. The introduction of pennicillin and other antibiotics in the 1940’s led to a decreased use and interest in honey as a wound management agent.
Antibiotic resistance and recent discoveries about the powerful abilities of manuka honey as well as more openness to natural remedies are currently spiking renewed interest.
Impressive testimonials indicate how this honey, in its FDA approved, medical grade variant has helped patients all over the world. Clinical evidence proving its efficacy is increasing too.
Personally, I always have a jar of manuka honey at home. It helps me heal nasty cuts (like the time I almost chopped off the tip of my thumb) but I use it for a sore throat and the common cold too. A friend of mine showed me how it helped cure his eczema and that little wound under his foot that didn’t heal.
Using jars of manuka honey, even though they are of a high MGO or UMF rating is officially discouraged. This because medical honey such as Medihoney products are irradiated by gamma radiation to inactivate spores such as those from Clostridium. This does not affect its antibacterial potency.
“irradiating honey is only a safety measure on the side of caution since we could not detect a single case report in the literature of C. botulinum wound infection related to the use of non-irradiated honey in wound care.”
Although more scientific studies are needed to truly establish this type of wound care the first indications are promising to say the least. If you are preparing for eclective surgery or are currently coping with a recalcitrant wound, Medihoney could be of great advantage to your healing process. They offer an natural way to speed up the healing process of your surgical wound, keep it clean, prevent and treat infections.
Wounds that do not heal should be seen by a medical professional.
Click here for an overview of Medihoney products on Amazon.