The Use of Honey in Wound Care


Honey has been used for centuries to heal wounds. When antibiotics came on the scene in the 1940's, honey lost in popularity as an agent of healing. Now, as concern has mounted regarding the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant organisms (AROs), scientists have begun to re-examine some of the known time-proven remedies for care of wounds. Honey is one of these old remedies that is being studied with fresh eyes.

How is honey used in wound management?

When applied to burns, honey is known to soothe the discomfort associated with burns and to help burns heal more quickly. Honey has also been shown to:

  • Improve healing
  • Reduce healing time
  • Reduce scar formation

Honey, in particular Manuka honey, has been shown to be useful against some strains of resistant bacteria. Manuka comes from a plant by the same name which is native to New Zealand.

How does honey help in healing?

Honey has been shown to stimulate human monocytes (a type of white blood cell that are responsible for phagocytosis of foreign substances) to produce inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are secreted by immune cells in response to pathogens, and signal immune cells to increase their response to pathogens.
Honey is also a potent antibacterial agent for several reasons:

  • Honey has a high sugar content
  • Honey has a low moisture content
  • Honey creates an acidic environment
  • Honey contains hydrogen peroxide

How much honey should be used?

The amount of honey necessary to adequately treat a wound is a subject of controversy, with few studies agreeing on how much honey should be applied, or even how often and by what method it should be applied.

Using honey on diabetic ulcers

Although few studies have been manufactured specifically on the use of honey in the management of diabetic ulcers, those that are available have been favurable to the use of honey. Honey has been reported as being more effective than conventional treatment in more than 100 case reports for treatment of chronic wounds. In one particular study, honey was effective when several other treatments had failed in a diabetic foot ulcer colonized with Pseudomonas, vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The wound is reported to have healed slowly, and it was theorized that the way in which honey is processed may have removed some of its beneficial components, including some of its antibacterial ability.

Problems with using honey for wound care

There have been no reports of allergic reactions to honey itself, but some individuals may be sensitive to pollen or bee proteins in honey. Also, when honey is used in copious amounts, tissue may become dehydrated. This is easily remedied by the application of saline packs. Few patients have reported discomfort sufficient enough that a honey application could not be tolerated, but some patients did report transient stinging.

Due to the composition of honey, directly applying honey to wounds may not be effective because the honey may be squeezed out the sides of the dressing. In addition, wounds that are heavily exudative may wash away the applied honey from the wound bed. For this reason, dressings impregnated with honey are now being manufactured in a sterile form. Such dressings are prepared to be able to handle large amounts of exudate so that the honey in the dressings stays in direct contact with the wound being treated. Dressings should be changed when arranged.

Wound care management is undergoing rapid changes in which new information becomes available constantly. As a health care professional, the amount of new information can be overwhelming. At wounded, we are committed to providing you with the latest, most up-to-date evidence-based knowledge available.
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