Hydrogen Peroxide --> Stinging foaming goodness
May 15, 2006 1:57 PM   Subscribe

Why does hydrogen peroxide on a cut start to foam and bubble?

I cut my foot, so I did my standard treatment for cuts-- pour a little hydrogen peroxide on it, dry the area around the cut, apply some neosporin, and then a bandaid.

As always, I was surprised at how much foaming and bubbling the hydrogen peroxide causes. Anyone have an ideas of what that's all about?
posted by gregvr to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It is being converted to water and oxygen by the enzyme catalase.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:59 PM on May 15, 2006

See this question: Why does hydrogen peroxide foam when you put it on a cut?.

But, beware...a doctor told me that using hydrogen peroxide is an old wives' tale that can lead to blood poisoning. I was told this after getting blood poisoning from use of hydrogen peroxide...I can't find an online reference to corroborate this, but I can't imagine why the doctor would make it up.
posted by acoutu at 2:22 PM on May 15, 2006

acoutu, what your doctor told you sounds like the old wive's tale. Seems like there is no way hydrogen peroxide could cause blood poisoning. Fails to neutralize all infectious agents in a wound, but gives false sense of security so injured person doesn't use a true antiseptic, then gets blood poisoning from the uncleaned portion of the wound, I could see.
posted by nomisxid at 2:29 PM on May 15, 2006

That foaming action helps debride, or clean out, the wound.

The problem with hydrogen peroxide, H2O2, is that is kills some healthy cells and resident flora in and around the wound. Resident flora kindly takes up space so that other bad microbes, pathogens, can't set up residence.

Without resident flora, pathogens can lead to infection. Your personal wound care is excellent, gregvr, but you probably don't need to do the peroxide step.

Don't mean to derail. H2O2 is so fascinating.
posted by dog food sugar at 3:07 PM on May 15, 2006

I've been using Hydrogen Peroxide for decades on all of my scrapes and cuts and have never had an adverse reaction. Actually the only times I ended up getting infections were the times I neglected the peroxide step. This comes from a childhood of play on the dirty streets and concrete playgrounds of Brooklyn where standard procedure first aid is digging out tiny shards of glass and debris from wounds.
posted by any major dude at 3:36 PM on May 15, 2006

Well, dog food sugar, I am not ordinarily so detailed in my personal wound care. However, I just had 4 inches of water in my basement due to flooding, and I was a bit scared of what was in the water that soaked through my boot!

Thanks for the answers, AskMeFi!
posted by gregvr at 3:50 PM on May 15, 2006

Hydrogen peroxide results in hemolysis of red blood cells. The blood poisoning that is spoken of above is the oxidant stress hydrogen peroxide has. Oxidant stress can result in several effects, which depend upon the substrate that is affected. Some will develop hemolysis, some will develop methemoglobinemia, and some will develop sulfhemoglobinemia. Pouring a little hydrogen peroxide on the surface of a wound is probably not enough to result in "blood poisoning" though.
posted by erd0c at 4:16 PM on May 15, 2006

I never use anything on my cuts, nor do I put on a band-aide. I've never had a cut get infected.

So there's another anecdote to throw into the mix, there.
posted by delmoi at 4:59 PM on May 15, 2006

H2O2 only works if you want to bubble out deep dirt in a wound, particulate matter like sand or soil. H2O2 is not an anti-infective and it does indeed cause tissue damage, mainly to new tissue that's trying to grow in to heal your cut. Neosporin ointment causes tissue damage also, to a milder degree, but for a small cut on a short-term basis the ointment is okay. A larger wound, like a burn, needs a different treatment to prevent infection.

delmoi: You're playing with fire by not treating a cut, especially if that cut is on a foot as gregvr's is. Younger people generally have healthier immune systems, but please don't take that for granted because it will not always be so, and it would be a shame to lose a foot because "it never got infected before."

Be sure your tetanus immunization status is up to date: everyone needs a tetanus & diphtheria combined booster every 10 years, but if you have a deep wound and it's been more than 5 years since your last booster, you should get a booster asap.
posted by lambchop1 at 6:47 PM on May 15, 2006

Hydrogen peroxide has another fabulous use, I does a great job of removing dried and drying blood from around the wound making it easier to determine the extent of the actual injury.
posted by Megafly at 6:55 PM on May 15, 2006

Off topic, but would everyone in the developed world do me a big favor and stop dousing open wounds with hydrogen peroxide? It's not recommended by virtually anybody who has any authority on this matter, and is thought to cause additional tissue damage and impair wound healing. You'd be much better served by running minor cuts or lacerations under an open tap of regular old H2O. If you really don't trust the tap, get yourself a bottle of sterile saline for situations like this. For anything more serious, of course seek medical attention.
posted by drpynchon at 9:52 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

side question -- what about rubbing alcohol? is it an effective antiseptic? does it harm your tissue? impair healing, etc?
posted by randomstriker at 10:31 PM on May 15, 2006

For randomstriker.
posted by mediareport at 10:02 PM on October 23, 2006

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