I remember that when I was a kid, I was often told that one should always let their wounds get some fresh air, especially if the wound is fresh. I neither had the brains nor the motivation to argue with that notion, and admittedly, giving a wound some fresh air just seemed like a logical idea. Interestingly enough, after all these years, I still see many people who leave their wounds exposed to air so that they heal faster.
But, when you go to the hospital with a fresh injury, one of the first things that a nurse does is clean the wound and cover it up. Why do they do that?
If leaving a wound exposed to the air is so good and promotes healing, then why do doctors recommend covering a wound with bandages and dressing?
Well, let me tell you at the outset that the notion that leaving a wound exposed to air helps in faster healing is a misconception. With the exception of minor cuts bruises, or scrapes, it’s always best to cover wounds.
The human body is a very interesting and efficient piece of machinery, yet comprises only biological components. It has different methodologies to deal with different kinds of injuries, but one of most common way in which the human body reacts to a wound is by the formation of a scab.
The process of the formation of a scab starts as soon as you get injured and start bleeding. Special blood cells called platelets spring into action as soon as they sense that there is a ‘breach’ in your skin. These platelets stick together like glue at the site of the injury (like a cut, scrape or bruise) and form a clot.
This clot acts like a biological protective bandage over the wound and prevents further bleeding. If the injured part of the skin (and effectively that clot) remains uncovered, the clot dries out and hardens up, forming a scab. We often tend to think of the formation of a scab as a sign of recovery. People even get a kick out of picking at their scabs.
A scab is the body’s natural defense to offer protection against germs, but in reality, it’s not the best way to heal a wound. A scab hampers the healing process by erecting a barrier of dried-out, dead cells. Healthy skin cells must work their way beneath these dead cells to form new tissue and help in the healing process.
As it turns out, letting a wound (with the exception of minor cuts and scrapes, with no bleeding) “air out” is almost always a bad idea. It’s always better to cover the wound, especially if it’s bleeding.
Why is covering a wound important?
If a fresh wound is kept covered, it keeps the skin cells from drying out and forming a scab, which ultimately minimizes the chances of scarring at the site of the wound. Covering an injury does a lot of good things, including keeping it moist, which promotes better skin healing.
It also significantly reduces the chances of infection, as it keeps germs, dirt and (potentially unclean) water from coming in contact with the injury. This is a good thing, because if germs, dirt and other unwanted things do reach the site of the injury, you might get an infection.
Furthermore, an exposed wound offers no protection whatsoever against further worsening of the wound. In other words, if a wound is left uncovered, the scab can be scratched or torn off (we’ve already discussed humanity’s weird tendency of picking at scabs) and there are also chances of re-injury.
A bandage or dressing, in contrast, offers added comfort and cushioning to the wound. It also protects from re-injury, which is another plus.
All in all, it’s best to cover your wounds, as it helps in protecting them and accelerating the healing process.