Apparel - Wound Dressings 101

Wound Dressings 101

By Diane Mirlocca RN WOCN, IIWCC

Over the last 30 plus years, developments in wound dressings have led to a shift from simple tape and gauze dressings to advanced products containing medication and other ingredients that actively promote wound healing. There are over 3,000 types of wound dressings available today and that fact alone is overwhelming!   

The secret to understanding the various types of wound dressings is to learn the basic categories of dressings: also referred to as generic categories. The dressings within each category may not be identical, however they will possess similar key properties.  This article provides information on the properties of four main categories of wound dressings, based on function: hydration, moisture retention, moisture absorbents and anti-microbials. Understanding the purpose of each category will help you place company’s products into the appropriate section.

Before we delve into these details it is important to keep the following in mind:

  • Wounds need to kept moist—as moist as your eye. No more: no less. If chosen wisely, today’s advanced dressings do just that.
  • Dressing selection needs to be based on your medical condition, ability to provide self-care, accessibility to products and support, your wound’s needs (e.g. moisture, absorption, protection, etc.) and possibly cost (depending where you live)
  • The dressing alone will not fix the problem; the cause of the wound needs to be addressed at the same time.
  • Always refer to manufacturer instructions for use before using a product
  • Not all products will work on everyone

HYDRATION--Providing moisture to the wound

Hydrogels:  are products that contain mostly water and are designed to donate moisture to the wound. Cells that promote healing cannot function without water. Without the right amount of moisture wound healing is delayed.

MOISTURE RETENTION--Keeping the wound moist

Transparent Film is a latex-free adhesive dressing that acts as a second skin over a wound—neither donating or absorbing fluid. Rather the film dressing keeps the wound at a balanced moisture level and provides protection from the outside: bacteria, viruses and other germs, debris entering the wound, irritation from clothes, friction or rubbing from movements.

Hydrocolloids dressings contain fluid-loving particles with a strong film or foam adhesive backing. They work by slowly absorbing wound fluid resulting in a gel-like mass.  These dressings also act as occlusive barrier to bacteria and viruses,

Acrylic adhesive dressing contains fluid-loving particles, like hydrocolloids. These dressings are different in that they are able to slowly absorb wound fluid over an extended period of time and are transparent so you can see the wound without needing to ‘take a peek’.

MOISTURE ABSORBENT--pulling away excess would fluid

Alginate dressings’ main ingredient is brown seaweed. Once this dressing is placed inside the wound, it absorbs up to 20X its weight in wound fluid and turns gel-like. The gel keeps the wound moist and at the same time may trap bacteria. The dressing is removed by irrigation.  This dressing requires another dressing on top. These dressings come in a variety of shapes and sizes that can be cut to size. Hydrofibers are dressings made from a man-made material, sodium carboxymethylcellulose.  These dressings are similar to alginates and may be used interchangeably.

Foam dressings are made out of polyurethane bubbles (or pores) that absorb and hold fluids. The dressing’s capacity to absorb wound fluid is based on the product’s structure and thickness. Foams come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, adhesive borders and coatings. These dressings are good for wounds with moderate to heavy drainage.  

SUPERABSORBENTS--for heavily draining wounds 

Superabsorbent dressings contain a non-adherent layer that fits against the skin/wound surface, and has multiple layers of cellulose, cotton or rayon designed to absorb and lock the wound fluid away from the skin.

ANTIMICROBIAL--for wounds showing signs of infection

Antimicrobial dressings help to reduce signs and symptoms of infection. They are available in a variety of forms, shapes and sizes: e.g. woven gauze, super-absorbents, foams, alginates, fabrics or combination of materials.

Today we’ve provided a summary resource on the various wound care products available--products more helpful to heal a wound rather than traditional gauze dressings. What we now know is wound dressings that provide a balanced moist environment help to heal wounds faster. A wound specialist is necessary in order to provide a holistic and personalized plan of care.  For more information, click here.

Diane Mirlocca

Diane Mirlocca

Diane is a registered nurse (RN) with over 30 years of healthcare experience, specializing in wound and ostomy care. Her sense of humour and practicality has helped hundreds of ostomates patients live richer lives.
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