Wound Dressing

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Medical assistant changes the dressing of a wound at the emergency room

Wound dressings are placed in direct contact with a wound in order to help it heal without interference from foreign objects or other agents that may cause infections or complications. They are an essential component of wound care supplies for any health care institution.

There are many types of wound dressings in common use and they are designed to treat the wide range of wounds that medical professionals may encounter from day to day. However, the one overriding goal that all dressings share in common is the prevention of infections.

Other goals of specific types of wound dressing are:

  • To stop bleeding and encourage blood clotting (as essential first step in the healing process);
  • To absorb excess blood, plasma or other types of body fluids. As an example, abdominal wounds tend to be accompanied by heavy bleeding. As a result, abdominal wound dressings need to be designed with the need for high absorbency in mind;
  • Debridement of the wound, which is the removal of dead or infected skin tissue to keep the wound clean and to prevent possible interference with healing.

Types Of Wound Dressing

As mentioned above, there is currently a very large number of dressing types on the market today. It is useful to provide an overview of the different types of dressing n common use as well as their basic strengths and weaknesses.

Cloth Dressings

This is the most prevalent type of wound dressing in use. Its main strengths are its applicability to a wide variety of wound types. Typical uses include protecting open wounds from minor injury, treating small patches of broken skin or treating wounds in highly areas, where its extreme conformability comes in useful.

Cloth dressings are also versatile enough to serve as either first first layers of protection or as second layers in order to provide collateral security to the wound.

Transparent Dressings

These wound dressings allow doctors to continuously monitor the healing progress of a wound while the bandage remains in place. This makes them a favourite for dressing wounds for which there is a high risk of complications or infection. The types of wounds for which transparent dressings can be a preferred option include surgical incision sites, ulcers, burns and intravenous sites.

Foam Dressings

This is another common type of wound dressing and has absorbency as its main strength. It is able to absorb large amounts of excess fluid from a wound while keeping it moist. This derives from the unique property of foam to allow water vapour to pass through it while blocking bacteria.

Maintaining moisture around the wound shortens healing time, protects the wound from infection and helps to ward off foul odours that may be a problem for certain types of wound.

Hydrocolloid Dressings

These dressings are made from a self adhesive but non breathable material. Like foam dressings, hydrocolloid dressings are designed to maintain a moist wound environment in order to promote faster healing.  They are also highly regarded for their ability to last for exceptionally long periods.

To achieve this, the dressing surface is coated with various polymers that absorb water to form a gel.The dressing then keeps the gel in direct contact with the wound in order to promote healing.

Hydrocolloid dressings are a popular option for treating burns, lightly draining wounds, necrotic wounds or pressure or venous ulcers.

Hydrogel Dressings

As with hydrocolloid and foam dressings, these are designed to add moisture to the wound environment. This property helps the dressing heal the wound faster but also break down dry and dead tissue.

These are highly versatile dressings that are applicable to many types of wounds. Having said this, they are probably most widely used on unusually painful or necrotic wounds, second degree burns and wounds that have been complicated by means of infection.

Hydrogel dressings are flexible enough to also be used to reduce potential problems from friction, chafing and blisters. 2nd Skin Squares or Circles are examples of this.

Alginate Dressings

These dressings are designed for maximum absorbency, placing them at the opposite end of the spectrum from dressings like hydrogel or hydrocolloid.

They are a great option for wounds that are already creating lots of excess fluid from drainage of blood or other fluids (e.g. abdominal wounds). On wounds that have a tendency to dry out, alginate dressings will only exacerbate that problem and should therefore be avoided.

One drawback of alginate dressings is the need to change them frequently (a direct result of their high absorbency)

Collagen Dressings

These dressings are fundamentally different from the types discussed above in that they can act as a second skin to allow new cells to grow on the wound bed. This helps shorten healing time, particularly for chronic wounds when healing has stalled due to complications.

Collagen dressings are a recommended option on wounds such as pressure sores, transplant sites, certain surgical wounds or injuries that cover a large body area, among others.

Choosing The Best Wound Dressing

As every wound dressing has strengths and weaknesses, it is important to identify the features of the most appropriate dressing to use in any situation.

Below, we have set out a number of suggested questions you should ask before choosing a dressing to use in any situation:

Are the wounds you treat normally wet or dry?

If many of the wounds tend to be dry, you should consider having a selection of wound dressings on hand that will donate moisture. One example of these is a hydrogel dressing. On the other hand, if many of the wounds are moist or exudative, you will need a good supply of dressings & bandages that will absorb the excess moisture.

Are many of the wounds you encounter infected?

If so, you will need a supply of wound dressings that contain anti infection agents like silver or iodine. However, bear in mind that these dressings vary greatly in their absorptive abilities. Consequently, you will need to consider the answer to the first question above together with the response to this one.

Is odor an issue with many of the wounds you treat?

This may be the case, for example, with wounds that are the result of conditions like cancer or pressure ulcers. In this case, a charcoal wound dressing will help by absorbing the malodorous gases emanating from the bacteria.

Suggested Wound Dressing Products

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