Bandages and dressings are both used in wound management. A bandage is a piece of cloth or other material used to bind or wrap a diseased or injured part of the body. Usually shaped as a strip or pad, bandages are either placed directly against the wound or used to bind a dressing to the wound. A dressing can consist of a wide range of materials, sometimes containing medication, placed against the wound.
The purposes served by dressings include protecting wounds; promoting healing; and providing, retaining, or removing moisture. Bandages can be used to hold dressings in place, and also to relieve pain and generally make the patient comfortable. Elastic bandages are useful to provide ongoing pressure on varicose veins, fractured ribs, swollen joints, etc.
There have been tremendous advances made in the design and composition of dressings and bandages in recent years. The field is becoming increasingly complex, and there are numerous reports of health care workers applying inappropriate products. Wound-care materials come in a wide variety of product classes, including the following:
Alginate dressings. These are derived from brown seaweed, and contain calcium alginate, which turns into a sodium alginate gel when it comes in contact with wound fluid. Alginate dressings are available as pads or ropes.
Biosynthetic dressings. Composites of biological (often animal-derived) and synthetic materials such as polymers.
Collagen dressings. Made from collagen, a protein obtained from cowhide, cattle tendons, or birds. They are available as particles or gels.
Composite dressings. These look like Band-Aids, and include an adhesive border, a nonadhesive or semiadhesive surface that is applied to the wound, an absorbent layer, and a bacterial barrier.
Contact layers. A low-adherent layer of perforated or woven polymer material, designed to stop a secondary absorbent dressing from sticking to the wound surface.
Gauze. This woven fabric of absorbent cotton is available in a number of formats and materials, including cotton or synthetic, nonimpregnated, and impregnated with water, saline, or other substances. Gauze is sold as surgical swabs, sheets, rolls, pads, sponges, and ribbon.
Growth factors. These short-chain proteins affect specific target cells. They exist naturally in humans. They can be transplanted from one part of the body to another, or manufactured outside the body.
Hydrocolloid dressings. Used for leg ulcers, minor burns, pressure sores, and traumatic injuries, these self-adhesive dressings form a gel as they absorb fluid from the wound. They consist of materials such as sodium carboxymethylcellulose (an absorbent), pectin, and gelatin, attached to a foam sheet or a thin polyurethane film.
Hydrofibers. Similar in appearance to cotton, carboxymethylcellulose fibers turn into a gel when they are brought into contact with wound fluid. They are available as ribbons or pads, and are highly absorbent.
Hydrogels. These are sold as sheets and in gel form, and are primarily used to supply moisture to wounds. Depending on the state of the tissue, they can either absorb fluid or moisten the wound. An electrically conductive aloe vera gel is available to provide electrotherapy to wounds.
Hydropolymers. These foamed-gel products consist of multiple layers. The surface layer is designed to expand to fill the wound's contours, at the same time drawing away fluids.
Leg compression/wrapping products. Designed to apply external pressure to improve blood flow and resolve chronic edema in the feet and legs. Available in a broad range of formats including stockings, compression bandages, or pneumatic pump.
Polyurethane foam dressings. These are sheets of foamed polymer solutions with small open chambers that draw fluids away from the wound. Some, but not all, of these foam products offer adhesive surfaces. They are available as sheets and rolls, as well as in various other formats suitable for packing wounds.
Skin substitutes. Also known as allografts or skin equivalents, these are obtained from human cells cultured and expanded in vitro from neonatal foreskins.
Superabsorbents. These are particles, hydropolymers, or foams that act like the material inside diapers, with a high capacity for rapid absorption.
Transparent films. These consist of a thin, clear polyurethane sheet that, on one side, has a special adhesive that does not stick to moist surfaces like those found on a wound. They prevent bacteria and fluids from entering the wound through the dressing, but allow limited circulation of oxygen.
Wound fillers. These can be bought as powders or pastes, or in strands or beads. They are used to fill wounds and also absorb wound fluid.
Wound pouches. Equipped with a special collection system for wounds that have a high flow of secretion. Designed to contain odors, and to be easily drained.
Other assorted wound-care products. These include adhesive bandages, surgical tapes, adhesive skin closures, surgical swabs, paste bandages, specialty absorptive dressings, support bandages, retention bandages, elasticized tubular bandages, lightweight elasticized tubular bandages, foam-padded elasticized tubular bandages, and plain stockinettes.
David L. Helwig, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health, 2002
This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.