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What is a Sterile Dressing?

By Tina Samuels
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A sterile dressing is a form of absorbent cotton fabric that is generally bonded on both sides so that it does not stick to the wound or area. It is used as wound care to promote the healing of an injury and to prevent more harm to the area. A sterile dressing is different from a bandage, in that a bandage is designed to hold a dressing in place while the sterile dressing is the gauze or antibacterial dressing itself.

A sterile dressing is used in medical environments and by professionals in first aid, nursing, medicine, and emergency medical services. It is made from gauze or cotton cloth most commonly, with or without medicine applied to it. Some will have a thin coating over the dressing to ensure that it will not stick to the wound and cause more damage.

Historically, there have been a variety of different dressings used in this way, from leaves and cobwebs to animal dung. While these dressings were not sanitary by modern standards, early human beings still realized the need to keep a wound protected from the outside world.

Sterile dressings are designed with the idea that they will help the wound recover faster than doing nothing. They can stop bleeding and soak up prior fluid loss, help keep the wound free of infection and damage, and help in the healing of the wound.

Up until the 1960s, it was widely believed that wounds healed faster if exposed to air, to help "dry" them. In 1962, scientist George Winter published his controversial findings, suggesting that moist healing was faster. A sterile dressing is key to moist healing, as it can help prevent a wound from drying out. Moist healing can help maintain the correct pH and skin temperature to aid in faster healing, keep infections at a lower rate, and increase the amount of medicine that stays on the wound.

Sterile dressings are easy to apply. The cotton or gauze should be large enough to cover the area of wound entirely. Medicine may be added to the dressing before it is applied, then the dressing is secured using medical tape. Changing a dressing often is a good idea, as it may become filled with blood, pus, or other bodily fluids. A clean sterile dressing is also better to help in healing.

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Discussion Comments

By ckoszalka — On Dec 15, 2013

Something as simple as a sterile wound dressing is easy to take for granted today. If they weren't manufactured we would be hard pressed to easily provide clean protection to wounds in the home.

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