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12 min read

Overview of Wound Dressings

By Scott Chambers on Mar 12, 2021 5:20:03 PM

Wound Dressings

Whether they are open or closed, shallow or deep, the healing process from wounds can be long and painful. 

Types of wounds are wide-ranging depending on where they are and the kind of injury sustained. There isn't one specific treatment for a wound. Even the style varies depending on the location and depth of a wound.

Many different types of wound dressings help heal burns, chronic ulcers, pressure sores, and leg ulcers. Knowing which one to use isn't that simple.

In this wound dressing guide, we give an overview of wound dressings to make sure your wound heals the right way. 

What is a Wound Dressing?

A wound dressing is a type of bandage used to cover a wound and stick to the surrounding skin by glue or wound dressing tape. It can either be in the form of a gel (hydrogel), foam, gauze, bandage, and other wound dressing patches. Most wound dressings consist of compounds such as polymers, elastomers, and natural products.

Wound dressings help with the prevention of infection, encourage healing, and reduce pain. Different wound dressing types are useful for different kinds of wounds.

Examples of these other dressings include wet-to-dry bandages, alginates, hydrogels, and film dressings. These dressings are also used after surgery or to treat severe injuries or burns. 

In theory, if it protects a wound from contamination and allows it to heal, then it's a wound dressing. Yet, the term is more often used to describe bandages worn to prevent hard calluses from forming.

First, we should look at how treating the wound affects the dressing used. That way, you're confident that you know you've made the right choice.

Pre-Treating the Wound

Health professionals use a wide range of techniques when assessing injuries. Most, though, begin by evaluating what happened. They do this to make sure they understand the nature of the wound and how best to treat it.

For example, you may hear something like this "The wound is open with an extended defect." This means that there's a break in the skin that extends to the fat or muscle layer.

That's fairly serious and would require a dressing that protects the wound from further exposure. It may also mean that you need to stop the bleeding, remove debris, and apply antibiotics before using a dressing.

Step One: Stem The Blood Flow 

The first step is keeping any living tissue alive. In doing so, the aim is to stop infected blood from entering the body's healthy areas. This is hemostasis, which keeps oxygen circulating so that healthy cells can regenerate.

For example, suppose a vein collapses in a profound or severe wound. In that case, doctors use stitches and a small tube called a catheter to help the blood vessels.

The catheter's tip lives under the skin. It sticks for up to three weeks and delivers a steady amount of oxygenated blood through the wound.

Step Two: Treat Infection

If a wound becomes infected with bacteria or fungus, doctors administer antibiotics. This stops the infection from spreading.

If this is not enough to heal the area, they may proceed with debridement or dead tissue removal. This is a manual process, using hands and tools like forceps and scalpels. But it is also sometimes achieved through radiation therapy or surgery.

Step Three: Close The Wound

After debridement, doctors use sutures or surgical staples to close any remaining wounds. Next comes the rehabilitation process.

Doctors may opt for a cast, splint, or shoe to keep the joint safe where the damage occurred, such as in the ankle, knee, or hip. They can also recommend physical therapy. This helps improve mobility and prevent any injury from occurring during exercise.

Step Four: Re-Evaluation and Wound Dressing

Once closed, doctors re-evaluate the wound and, if needed, keep treating the injury. The first action for damaged skin is to clean it with sterile water or saline solution.

Then, cover it using a sterile dressing to keep germs away. This is where the different wound dressings come into play.

Types of Wounds And Treatments

When dressing a wound, first consider its location and type. The treatment method should depend on how deep it is, if it's open or closed (on the surface or underneath), and whether there are any complications such as swelling or infection. Here are some common types of wounds and treatments:

Open wounds that have been cleaned and treated with an antibacterial cream (or ointment). The healing process begins with keeping the damage covered and protected from dirt, bacteria, and other contaminants.

The skin's natural healing process then begins. The next stage can be cleaned with sterile gauze (to remove any debris) once or twice a day.

The area underneath the wound may feel stiff, rigid, or numb. This varies depending on where the injury is located. For example, an open wound on your foot will likely feel less stiff than one on your arm.

In particular, this is vital for severe injuries, like foot ulcers and pressure sores. The healing process is slow but critical in keeping the damage covered to keep the area clean and prevent infection.

What About Skin Grafts?

A skin graft is an operation to move healthy skin from one area of your body to another. It helps heal deep wounds where other treatments fall short. In this case, the surgeon takes a healthy sample of skin from one location on your body (the donor site). 

It then moves it into your wound (or a new section of your body) after removing damaged tissue and toxins that do not belong in the body. Even though skin grafts are among the most common surgeries, they are only recommended for severe wounds previously treated with antibiotics and debrided before surgery.

The skin graft taken from the donor remains dead tissue. It takes time for your body to start growing new skin from scratch.

This process can easily take between two to four weeks. During this time, the wound should remain covered with a dressing to help prevent infection and ensure that new skin grows naturally in the right place.

Using a Wound Dressing Selection Chart

The wound dressing selection chart determines which dressing is best for wounds. There are many wound dressings in the market today. In this section, we compare the various wound dressings featured in the wound dressing selection guide and how they help heal wounds.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Gauze Bandages

Gauze bandages are made from different wound dressing materials. Gauze bandages also exist with nylon or rayon and are also known as non-weave bandages

Gauze bandages are often used as short-term fixes by ambulance medics on the field. This is because they attach to other wounds for support or are packed into a wound cavity. Gauzes are also used between burns layers to avoid infection.

Alternatively, they can sit on top of lacerations to prevent disease or itching. Wearing gauze bandages long-term is not recommended because they do not form a tight seal.

Advantages: Gauze bandages can cut down to size, though they are only used once and thrown away. They are an excellent alternative to hypoallergenic plasters that might cause skin sensitivity. Gauze bandages are also easy to find in most general medicine stores and are great for those on a small budget.

Disadvantages: Gauze bandages do not stick to the skin or adhere well to wounds. This means that they cannot hold fluids or bacteria in the damage. They can also fall off at any time.

As a result, this can cause more skin irritation on many occasions and lead to more pain for the patient. They are also very flimsy and can rip with ease.

Special Considerations: Gauze had existed since the Crimean War in the 19th century. They don't adhere well to the skin, so they cannot hold any fluid or bacteria in or out of an injury.

Gauze bandages are a cost-effective dressing for wounds that won't heal otherwise. They may prevent further infection spread.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Hydrocolloid Bandages

Hydrocolloid bandages are transparent, sticky bandages placed over wounds with a layered effect. When used on top of other dressings, they create a seal over an injury to protect it from external factors. Hydrocolloid dressings consist of gelatinous material.

When applied to wounds, they absorb fluid matter while keeping the levels of moisture up. This lets tissue below the surface heal quicker by reducing redness and inflammation. Hydrocolloid dressings are very useful in helping all kinds of wounds heal.

Advantages: Hydrocolloid bandages seal over the wound and hold it together. This stops dirt from entering the infected area. It allows the natural body processes of cleaning and healing. 

Hydrocolloid bandages also stop fluids from leaking and can draw them out from the wound area. This reduces the pain a lot, minimizing swelling, and encourages healing without interference.

Disadvantages: Hydrocolloid bandages are not useful for deep or infected wounds. This is because they do not absorb blood or bacterial infection.

They are also challenging to keep in place and can come loose. When applied, the bandage may stick to itself, to other dressings, or to the skin, making it hard to remove. 

Special Considerations: Hydrocolloid wound dressings are the medics' choice in hospital settings. They are also useful in post-op as a dressing of choice for healing clean wounds free from infection. They can hold tissue together during healing and need changing every 48 hours.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Hydrogel Wound Dressings

Gel bandages are transparent wound dressings and are made from wax, air bubbles, or hydrogels. These materials form a gel-like substance when it makes contact with the skin.

Gel bandages have a high water content, improving blood flow to the deepest layers of the skin. Hydrogel bandages are most often used by medics in organ transplants and skin grafts. They act as a dressing that seals shut wounds without causing any pain or discomfort.

Advantages: They stick well to the body and cover wounds without much discomfort. They are also able to withstand frequent changes without losing their effectiveness. Moreover, gel bandages do not cause any irritation to the skin and are also used on sensitive skin.

Gel bandages provide a seal over wounds and slow down the bleeding. This prevents infection from getting into deep tissues.

Disadvantages: As the hydrogel wound dressing bandages are thick, they aren't sterile and only one-use. They need careful application, as their thickness can be uncomfortable for the patient.

Special Considerations: Hydrogel bandages are best used in first-aid, stopping further tissue damage. When used with other dressings, they protect wounds that need attention straight away.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Moisture-Retentive Bandages

Moisture-retentive bandages are transparent dressings made from materials such as cotton wool. These are useful for their ability to absorb blood and exudate (liquid matter) from wounds.

Moisture-retentive bandages slow down the rate at which wounds discharge fluid. This promotes new living tissue growth, reducing the risk of infection.

Advantages: Moisture-retentive bandages keep wound exudates on the dressing, preventing deeper infection. This reduces pain and discomfort via a protective layer over the healing wound.

Disadvantages: Moisture-retentive bandages fall off with ease. This causes irritation and discomfort both external and internal to the patient. They also do not let wounds breathe when the injury needs to clean itself of bacteria or fluid.

Special Considerations: Moisture-retentive bandages are most effective when used with gauze or hydrocolloid. They shouldn't be on the skin for long periods. They do not absorb, so the risk of infection and further contamination is high.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Oxygen-Absorbing Bandages

Oxygen-absorbing bandages comprise materials such as blue cellulose. This blue cellulose helps to break down the amount of oxygen absorbed by a wound. Oxygen-absorbing applications most often treat injuries that have developed necrotic tissue (dead skin).

They prevent the spread of bacteria into lower layers of tissue. They also improve oxygen levels which promote healing and speed up recovery periods.

Advantages: Oxygen-absorbing bandages increase oxygen levels in a wound. As discussed, this promotes faster growth and regeneration of cells in the area. They also help seal the wound shut. This also prevents bacteria from getting into deeper tissue layers.

These dressings (including hydrocolloids) all encourage healthy cell growth and regeneration.

Disadvantages: Oxygen-absorbing bandages cannot remove liquid from wounds. They can be harmful if applied with a large number of exudates. They also aren't suitable for deep or infected wounds.

Special Considerations: Oxygen-absorbing bandages work best when receiving a direct oxygen supply. You should not use them on their own because they do not absorb exudates well enough. This means that there's a high chance of abscesses forming, which is bad for the healing process.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Sterile Gauze Bandages

Sterile gauze bandages consist of materials including cotton or synthetics like rayon. These are the most popular types of applications in hospital settings. Sterile gauzes are used when faster healing is needed and do so, holding wounds together.

Sterile gauze bandages come in various sizes and shapes. This makes them very easy to apply over smaller areas, as well as difficult wounds. They can also cut down to make the required shape for application over more extensive injuries.

Advantages: Sterile gauze bandages adhere well to the skin and are easy to cut to size. They also let wounds breathe, which is better than an application covering the entire area. This means that oxygen can still get into the damaged area even if it's covered up.

Disadvantages: Sterile gauze bandages are not very good at controlling bleeding or infection. This is because they do not absorb blood or fluids well.

They also do not create a strong seal over wounds as other dressing types do. This means they may come loose while healing and need reapplying several times again.

Special Considerations: Sterile gauze bandages work best in combination with other dressings. This ensures that oxygen levels in the wound can stay at a low level while keeping injuries covered. It's best to apply them on small cuts and minor injuries to keep them secure and protected during healing.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Transparent Film Bandages

Transparent film bandages are otherwise known as transparent wound dressing tape and made from PVC materials. They sit over a wound to seal it shut without causing much discomfort. The tight seal allows the natural healing process to occur underneath the dressing.

Transparent film bandages have adhesive tapes pre-applied for more straightforward application. This makes them great for injuries on larger areas of the body.

Advantages: Transparent film bandages are cheap. They cut to size at speed, and as they are single-use, they need no maintenance. As a result, they are a more cost-effective option. They also allow wounds to breathe and heal faster.

Disadvantages: Transparent film bandages do not absorb blood or exudates well. Thus, healing may take longer, or infection may spread if used on deep or infected wounds. They also are not sterile, so they are only suitable for one-time use.

Special Considerations: Transparent film bandages also work well with other dressing types. These create a seal over a wound area and reduce the risk of infection. They can exist alone but have a habit of falling off wounds, so they aren't great for long-term use.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Tissue Adhesive Bandages

Tissue adhesive bandages are transparent and made from cyanoacrylate materials. These form chemical bonds between them and the tissues they come into contact with. Tissue adhesive bandages seal up small cuts

This allows the skin to heal faster by avoiding infection from entering the wound. Tissue adhesive bandages can bond skin together almost immediately. Thus, they are often used in emergency rooms to treat patients who come in with minor injuries.

Advantages: Tissue adhesive bandages allow a tight seal when applied over a wound. They also reduce pain levels a lot while promoting faster growth of new tissue in areas that cut open.

Disadvantages: Tissue adhesive bandages do not allow wounds to heal naturally. This is because they do not create an environment in which the natural healing process can occur.

They also form blisters when applied over a wound. These blisters come loose with ease, and so the dressing needs regular application.

Special Considerations: Tissue adhesive bandages work only on minor cuts and wounds. They are best left for emergency situations where scars or other types of damage are a given.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Wound Dressing Foam

Wound dressing foam is a safe alternative to gauze. It is easy to use, has excellent sealing properties, and adheres well to the surrounding skin. It's most useful in the initial phases of wound healing.

It promotes granulation and re-epithelialization of the wound bed. The foam is removable by applying gentle pressure without causing pain.

The foam promotes faster healing of the wound bed as it seals the wound and cuts blood loss from the tissue edges. The foam-like consistency works well with the unique shapes of each laceration. The foam reduces the growth of bacteria in the injury and reduces the chance of biofilm forming.

Advantages: Wound dressing foam covers the wound bed. It promotes faster natural healing in soft tissue wounds.

The foam helps stem bacterial growth in the damaged area. It covers the edge of the injury, reducing the chance of inflammation and infection.

Disadvantages: Wound dressing foam does not adhere well to dry wound surfaces. It also contains latex, which may cause allergies in people who are allergic to latex.

Wound Dressings

Dressing wounds is a process that may seem intimidating at first. Still, with enough practice, it can become a comfortable and straightforward process.

Every wound dressing has its own pros and cons when it comes to medical treatments. Thus, most professionals recommend trying out different ones to see which works best.

The healthcare provider also determines how the wound dressing process will go. There are countless brands, styles, and shapes of bandages on the market today. All these choices make it hard to work out what's best for different patients.

If you're a business and need to order wound dressings, get in touch and receive your free quote today. 

Scott Chambers

Written by Scott Chambers

Business Development Manager for Strouse Scott graduated from Coastal Carolina with a degree in Business Management. He then attended the University of Baltimore School of Law earning his JD in 2016. He passed the bar later that year, and he started working for Strouse in 2017. Scott is in charge of marketing and business development in addition to being Strouse's In House Counsel.

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