Treating Wounds With Salt Water

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When it comes to cleaning a wound, the question usually comes down to "With what?" As the Medscape website points out, doctors have not yet discovered a perfect cleaning solution for every purpose. For basic wound care at home, however, your doctor is often likely to recommend rinsing or soaking your wound with what is referred to as "normal saline."

What's Normal About Normal Saline

"Normal" saline simply means that the amount of salt in the water is the same amount that's found in the human body: 0.9 percent. The advantage of using this specific amount is that is it gentle to your tissues and won't cause stinging or burning. Saltier water would typically sting and might be so irritating that it would interfere with healing. If you were to make normal saline at home, a doctor might recommend you add two teaspoons to a quart of water.

Advantages of Buying Normal Saline

If you mix up a batch of normal saline at home, it won't be sterile -- that is, it won't be completely free of all microorganisms. If you're healthy and just need to rinse a normally healing wound, that's probably no big deal. Clean water might be as good as sterile water for your purposes. Typically, however, sterile normal saline is inexpensive and available in most pharmacies as "saline wound wash" or "saline solution." Follow any instructions on the package. For example, some brands might recommend that you discard any unused portion after 24 hours because of the concern that bacteria could begin to grow in the solution.

Irrigation and How It Works

When you clean a wound with saline, doctors sometimes refer to "irrigating" the wound. It essentially means rinsing the wound by having water move or travel through or over the wound. This helps remove any dirt, dead tissue or germs that might have accumulated there, which in turn helps your wound heal. If your doctor wants you to irrigate your wound, he'll provide instructions for how much saline to use, how often and with how much pressure.

A Plain Old Soak Is Fine

Sometimes your doctor might recommend that you simply soak a wound -- for example, if your child has an infected cut. Again, follow any of your doctor's instructions carefully, but a typical recommended routine might involve soaking the wound in warm normal saline three times a day for 20 minutes each time, until it looks like the infection has cleared up. If the wounded body part is difficult to immerse -- say, on the top of your head -- your doctor might recommend using warm saline compresses instead of soaks. Again, seek your doctor's guidance before soaking a wound.