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What is a Sterile Bandage?

By Vanessa Harvey
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A sterile bandage, also known as a sterile dressing, is any material that is free from infectious matter and that is used to cover an open wound or injury to help control bleeding and prevent additional contamination from the environment. One of the principle functions of the skin is to act as a guard against microorganisms, commonly called germs; debris; chemicals, and other substances from the environment, keeping the underlying tissues and organs shielded against such dangerous contact. The skins, however, can suffer scrapes, cuts, puncture wounds and burns to varying degrees. Some type of sterile bandage often is used to restore the protection to the body temporarily by covering the break or tear in the skin while it heals.

There is more than one type of sterile bandage; adhesive bandages, medicated bandages, cohesive bandages and liquid bandages all can be included as sterile dressings. The choice of which type to use generally is dictated by the type and severity of the injury. For example, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics in the United States often use a special type of sterile bandage known as an occlusive dressing. This is done in order to form an airtight seal over an open wound to large veins in the neck, the abdomen or the chest. An occlusive bandage is available in two forms: a plastic wrap and a dressing that has been soaked in a petroleum gel.

When life-threatening bleeding or a large, open wound must be given attention, a sterile bandage known as a universal dressing can be employed to provide a cover quickly and to help control the bleeding. Universal dressings are also known as bulky dressings because of their large, bulky size. Wounds created by objects having been impaled into any part of the body also generally are treated with universal bandages to stabilize the object during emergency transport of the patient to a hospital or other medical care facility.

A pressure dressing is another form of sterile bandage that can be used. It is applied tightly to help control bleeding. Gauze typically is the dressing employed first, and a universal dressing might then be applied over it, depending on the size and depth of the wound. Finally, a roller bandage that is self-adherent is tightly applied to stabilize all of the layers.

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Discussion Comments
By activemoms — On Feb 14, 2017

So, once the bleeding is stopped, and the wound is clean, you can cover the cut or scrape with a sterile bandage.

By DevenSet — On Dec 23, 2013

A sterile bandage is important when covering wounds such as blisters. If a piece of gauze has been stored without protection and is used to cover a wound, the gauze could cause an infection. In an emergency, it can be tempting to grab whatever is available to stop a wound from bleeding. Therefore it is best to keep a variety of sizes of sterile bandages on hand so that you will have the right size available. Most drugstores sell boxes of bandages that contain different sizes.

By kpage — On Dec 23, 2013

What about cleansing the wound before dressing? Does using a sterile bandage on a wound that hasn't been cleaned up the risk of infection because potential germs are still present, or lower it?

If nothing else, alcohol (the kind you drink), makes an effective wound cleanser.

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