Home remedies that don’t help, and could even hurt

A young caring doctor

“Doc, rubbing alcohol on a cut will prevent an infection, right?”

Wrong! Here are a few of the most common ill-advised home remedies, why they don’t work, and what you should do to help yourself before seeing a doctor.

Burns and butter
Butter has no medicinal properties whatsoever and may even contaminate a burn, causing it to become infected. Any burns should initially be treated with cold water or an ice pack. Any first-degree burn (redness) can be treated with ibuprofen or aspirin for pain and inflammation, while second-degree burns (blisters) should probably be evaluated by a health care professional.

Nosebleeds and ice, tilting your head back or putting tissues in your nose
Nosebleeds are almost universally caused by breakage of tiny capillaries in the mucous membrane lining of the nasal septum, usually from a picking finger or blunt trauma. Dry mucous membranes from a cold, dehydration or dry air may contribute. Like all bleeding, the immediate treatment is direct pressure to the area — in this case, by blowing out any blood clots, and then pinching the nostrils over the fleshy part of the nose for 8-10 minutes. Ice will only make you nose cold. Tilting your head back will cause you to swallow any blood, inducing nausea and vomiting. And sticking tissues or cotton in the nostrils may be a temporary fix, but removing the packing will likely reopen the wound. Anyone taking blood thinners and those with a history of anemia, heart disease or lung disease should probably seek medical attention.

Cuts and rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol and iodine-based antiseptics (betadine) all kill bacteria, but these preparations also kill normal cells and tissue, making the injury worse if applied directly to a wound. Any break in the skin is best treated by flushing the cut, scrape or puncture with running water, applying pressure until the bleeding stops and covering he wound with a sterile bandage and antibiotic cream or ointment. If you can see fat or other underlying tissue, then the full thickness of your skin has been cut and you probably need stitches. See a doctor ASAP.

Heat or ice?

Acute musculoskeletal injuries (sprains, bruises) are best treated with intermittent ice and elevation, 20 minutes on and off, in order to reduce swelling and limit disability during the first 24 hours. Heat will increase circulation and so may make swelling from an acute injury worse. After 48 hours heat may improve mobility and accelerate reduction of bruising and swelling. Heat may also be used for improving circulation to soft tissue infections and facilitate treatment with prescribed antibiotics.


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