Author: Jonathan Bilyk
Published: March 10, 2014
Patrice Dillow, RN, MSN, CWOCN, APRN, wouldn’t blame others for questioning honey’s place among the ranks of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and other medications used to promote healing in clinical settings. But Dillow, a wound care specialist at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Midwestern Regional Medical Center in Zion, Ill., said many of those questions often disappear as quickly as the pain, odor and other effects of the persistent, open wounds Dillow regularly uses honey to treat while helping oncology patients.
“We see a product that works,” Dillow said. “For so many of our patients, it’s made all the difference in the world.”
For almost 35 years, Dillow has worked as a nurse; and for the last 16 years, she has worked at CTCA. Through most of those years, Dillow said, she struggled to help her patients through the pain and frustration of caring for wounds that were stubbornly resistant to modern conventional healing technologies and methods.
But within about the last five years, Dillow said, she has grown increasingly fond of a new product that draws upon a very old, sticky sweet medical remedy — honey.
For a growing number of practitioners, the ages-old use of honey — and a product known as Medihoney in particular — has stood out as an alternative treatment option, thanks to its properties to both combat infection and create an environment that promotes wound healing. Made by New Jersey-based Derma Sciences, Medihoney was approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2007. The product line offers a range of wound dressings soaked in manuka honey, or active leptospermum honey, a kind of honey produced by bees exclusively from the nectar of a tea tree in New Zealand. The honey also has been irradiated to kill any remaining active spores, sterilizing the honey for use in clinical settings.
Since Dillow began using the Medihoney dressings about five years ago, she said, the results have exceeded her expectations.
“I had patients that, we’d put on different dressings, and nothing would get the wound to heal,” Dillow said. “But the Medihoney just worked.”
Dillow and other nurses tracked the outcomes of treatments using Medihoney on six oncology patients — five women and one man between the ages of 39-64 — with various wound issues. She presented the findings of the case studies in a poster at the Oncology Nursing Society’s 38th Annual Congress in Washington, D.C., in April 2013, and at four other national conferences. Dillow said the outcomes of the case studies revealed the honey-soaked dressings were effective in significantly reducing pain, inflammation and malodor from the wounds, not only increasing patients’ physical well-being but improving their mental and emotional states and reducing frustration or embarrassment.
Dillow said the findings of her case studies revealed Medihoney dressings were noticeably more effective in treating troublesome wounds around the head and neck of patients undergoing radiation treatment. She said pain and other issues related to the wounds decreased quickly in severity, often within 24 hours.
Connie Johnson, RN, BSN, WCC, LLE, OMS, DAPWCA, a wound care nurse and ostomy management specialist at University Medical Center of Princeton in Plainsboro, N.J., has presented multiple posters at wound care conferences on the use of Medihoney to treat several ailments, including radiation dermatitis, certain kinds of skin lesions and oral wounds, as well as among oncology patients. Johnson said her work also demonstrated results similar to those noted by Dillow.
“We use it everyday on our oncology unit,” Johnson said. “There is clearly nothing more rewarding than having a patient in extreme pain ... applying [it] and hearing them say they have immediate relief of pain.”
Dillow and Johnson both said they intend to continue studying the use of honey in clinical settings and to read the work of others related to Medihoney and similar products.
At CTCA, for instance, Dillow said within the next six months she will help conduct a double-blind study testing four different products, including Medihoney, on 80 patients undergoing radiation treatment for either breast cancer or cancers in the head and neck area.
“Personally, I’d do this for free,” said Dillow, of her research and presentations regarding Medihoney. “I’m really excited to see what is coming.”