The smell of sugar in the room is intoxicating, bringing back memories of honey buns fresh from the oven and baklava still sticky on the fingers.
But the oddly moist and sticky pad that Dr. Mona Rane prods with one finger is not an afternoon snack; it's a wound dressing.
Medical-grade honey pads and ointments, Rane says, are good for hard-to-heal wounds like the horrific open ulcers caused by diabetes, stage four cancer, burns, bed sores and spider bites. (By the way, after looking at a few pictures of these gaping, angry wounds, the appetite awakened by the sweet-smelling medicine quickly dissipates.)
"Honey's been used for thousands of years [to treat wounds]," Rane says, pointing toward photos depicting healed patients.
But at the Springs' Penrose St. Francis Hospital, Rane and other doctors are just starting to use honey more often. Medical-grade honey (not the stuff in your kitchen, which carries with it a risk of botulism) has been available in the U.S. for several years, and finally is winning over an oft-skeptical populace.
Rane says she tries honey on patients who aren't getting results with other medications, and the results are often impressive. In recent years, active Leptospermum (a New Zealand strain) medical-grade honey has become a popular choice for treating wounds. No prescription is needed to buy the stuff, and it can be found on the Internet for prices ranging from under $20 to over $50. Plenty of brands are available, though both Penrose and Memorial Health System recommend Medihoney for their patients.
Honey actually has several beneficial properties for open sores: It deprives bacteria of oxygen they need to survive; its extremely high sugar content and extremely low pH ward off infection; it pulls fluid from the wound; and it has natural antibacterial and antiviral properties. When Dr. Rane was in medical school in India, she often used honey as a wound treatment, especially with other medications hard to come by.
"Due to their versatility and lack of toxicity," explains Medihoney's website, "Medihoney dressings can be used in all stages of wound healing, and can also be used as an important component of wound bed preparation."
Rochelle Salmore, a registered nurse who works with Rane, says Medihoney is "another item in the arsenal." She doesn't use it that often, but says it can sometimes work where other treatments fail, and patients appreciate that it's natural, can be left in place for three to four days, and isn't absorbed by the body.
Paula Scholdt, a registered nurse at Memorial's wound care center, agrees. One of her patients has had an open leg ulcer for more than two years and nothing seemed to help it. Recently, he's been using Medihoney and the wound slowly has started to regrow tissue.
"I think we're actually starting to see improvement," Scholdt says.
Scholdt notes that some studies are suggesting that honey may be able to treat antibiotic-resistant illnesses, which means it may find even greater use in hospitals in the future.
"It's kind of making a comeback," she says, "because there are people in the community that are looking for more natural treatments."