First Aid Dressings Explained

Cover wounds with dressings to help prevent infection and to protect the wound from further damage. Dressings can also be used to exert pressure on the wound to promote blood clotting. Whenever possible, a sterile dressing should be used. If a sterile dressing isn’t available you can use a clean piece of non-fluffy material as an improvised dressing, secured in place with a strip of cloth.

There are three main types of dressing you are likely to use in basic first aid; normal sterile wound dressings, low adherent dressing pads and adhesive dressings. Here’s a picture of them all, side-by-side:

Three types of first aid dressing

It is also very common to use cotton gauze or swabs when providing first aid to wounds, and we’ll cover those too.

Sterile Wound Dressing

AKA: first aid dressing, HSE dressing, roll dressing, ambulance dressing

Use for: larger, deeper wounds with bleeding

This type of dressing has a pad made of an absorbent material (often cotton wool). The pad is covered in a non-woven fabric, which prevents fibres from the absorbent material sticking to the wound. The pad is attached to a stretchy rolled bandage enabling the dressing to be easily secured to the affected area.

To apply, wind the short end of the bandage around the limb once to hold the dressing in place, then bandage over the whole dressing with the longer end. The shorter end of the bandage should be left free, so that you can tie the two ends together in a knot over the top of the wound.

We recommend: Steropax Plus. Good quality first aid dressings for general use. The mainstay of our own first aid kits.

Low Adherence Dressing Pad

AKA: low adherent dressing pad, dressing pad, sterile pad, PFA dressing, Melolin

Use for: scrapes, abrasions, burns, small wounds, lightly bleeding or dry wounds

These dressing pads have a perforated film surface, backed with an absorbent pad. The film surface helps to prevent the pad sticking to the wound, allowing the dressing to be removed with minimum discomfort and damage. The absorbent material draws and holds liquid away from wound.

Sterile pads are secured using either adhesive tape sealed around the edge of the dressing pad, or a bandage rolled over the dressing, covering the whole pad. Don’t apply adhesive tape all the way around a limb or finger as this can restrict circulation.

We recommend: Steropad dressings. Just as good as the brand names like Melolin, but much less costly.

Adhesive Dressings

AKA: plasters, big plasters, adhesive dressing pads, Band Aid

Use for: cuts, scratches, abrasions, lightly bleeding wounds, post-surgical wounds

There are a wide range of adhesive dressings available, from normal plasters to large post-surgery dressings. These sterile dressings have an absorbent low adherent dressing pad with an adhesive fabric or waterproof plastic backing.

To demonstrate the sort of size range available, here is a pic of a large 20cm x 9cm adhesive dressing against a normal blue plaster:

Normal plaster shown with large adhesive dressing

To apply, hold the adhesive dressing facing downwards and carefully peel back the protective cover to expose the pad. Holding the edges of the dressing, place it over the wound. Peel away the rest of the protective cover and press the edges of the adhesive dressing down.

We recommend: CMS big plasters for general first aid use – they’re great value. If you need something big and waterproof, try Premierfilm+ adhesive dressings.

Gauze and Non-Woven Swabs

Use for: padding, protection, wiping, cleaning, extra absorbency, improvised dressings

Swabs are squares of material available in various sizes. They are very useful because they can be used as an absorbent dressing, for cleaning around a wound and for drying around a wound after washing. Gauze swabs are made of an open-weave cotton material and non-woven swabs are made of a material made from bonded fibres. A single swab usually has 4 to 8 layers of material. Only sterile swabs should be used for dressing a wound.

Here’s a comparison picture to show the difference in texture between the cotton gauze version and the non-woven version:

Cotton Gauze vs Non-Woven Material

A dressing pad can be made from a folded piece of gauze, or some swabs. Take care not to touch the surface of the pad that will be in contact with the wound. This type of dressing can be secured in place with adhesive tape, or a rolled bandage. If you have a choice between cotton gauze and non-woven material and both are sterile, use the non-woven material for wound contact because it will not leave lint in the wound. Otherwise, use whichever one is sterile.

We recommend: Reliance or Premier non-woven swabs. Cheap, plentiful and very useful. Available in sterile and non-sterile packs.

General Advice for Using Dressings

  • Wear disposable gloves (they don’t need to be sterile) whenever possible when treating a wound and handling a dressing. This will protect you and the casualty from cross infection.
  • Take care not to touch the surface of the dressing that will come into contact with the wound. When handling the dressing pad only hold the edges.
  • Place the dressing directly onto the wound, do not slide it into position and do not move if once it is in place. Moving the dressing when it is in contact with the wound may cause further damage and bleeding.
  • Use a dressing that is large enough to cover the wound completely.
  • Replace the dressing if it moves out of position, don’t remove and re-use the existing dressing.
  • If blood soaks through the first dressing, cover it with another dressing, do not replace it.
  • If blood soaks through the second dressing, then remove both dressings and apply pressure to the wound with a new dressing.
  • If you have bandaged the dressing, check the circulation in the end of the limb, and continue to re-check frequently. Loosen the bandage if it’s restricting circulation.
  • Put all used supplies in a plastic bag, preferably a clinical waste bag. Keep your gloves on until you are ready to seal the bag, they should be the last item you dispose of.
  • Sterile dressings have expiry dates, so it’s a good idea to check the dates of your first aid supplies regularly.
  • Once the sterile dressing is opened, it ceases to be sterile, so don’t used dressings that have previously been opened or have damaged packaging.

You can browse our full range of dressings and plasters for sale by clicking here.

Physical Sports Limited sells first aid and medical supplies for the treatment of sports injuries. | | 01943 662 155

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