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Adhesive bandages were invented in the 1920s as a way to protect small cuts and scrapes without the bulk and inconvenience of a full-sized bandage. The overall design has not changed very much since then, but individual product features have evolved to provide specific treatment for smaller or larger injuries, injuries on joints or limbs, and even specialized burn care. There are even certain types of adhesive bandages that are saturated with medicated ointment in order to prevent infection and speed healing.
The most familiar form of adhesive bandage is the three-inch by one-inch strip. By far the most versatile style, this type of bandage is used for everyday minor injuries, and is most effective for small, shallow cuts and abrasions in places where the bandage can lay flat. When wrapped around knuckles, which are bent many times throughout the day, the bandage tends to wrinkle and the adhesive may fail, so manufacturers developed a butterfly-shaped bandage designed especially for flexing joints. Newer rectangular designs also feature tapered ends to allow for finger-wrapping as well.
Occasionally, a typical bandage is too large or obtrusive. For tiny wounds like a hangnail or a pimple, miniature bandages are available in 1 1/2 inch (3.81 cm) by 1/4 inch (1.27 cm) strips. Miniature bandages also come in a 1-inch (2.54 cm) round, for wounds located in awkward places where there may not be room for a rectangular strip.
Adhesive bandages are also available in larger sizes, up to 6 inches (15.4 cm) by 6 inches (15.4 cm), for wounds that cover more surface area. Commonly used for abrasions, these bandages are mostly absorbent pad, with a half-inch strip of adhesive around the edge. The thicker pad allows for more blood absorbency, and the square shape effectively covers a larger area than a rectangular bandage of the same size. Although not recommended for wrapping around flex joints, a 6-inch (15.4-cm) by 6-inch (15.4-cm) square bandage will cover an entire adult kneecap or shoulder, and stay put as long as strenuous movement is avoided.
Adhesive bandages are commonly made of latex, although the rise in latex allergy awareness is moving the industry to develop alternatives. Companies have developed proprietary latex-free plastics, and fabric bandages are popular. Major adhesive bandage manufacturers offer most shapes and sizes in different plastics that are waterproof, breathable, sheer, or even see-through. A large shift in the bandage industry is toward a thin neoprene, which combines all of the advantages of the specialty plastics into one bandage.
Most bandage companies offer medicated bandages in various shapes and sizes. The pads of these bandages are impregnated with antibiotic or antibacterial ointment to prevent infection and speed healing. Some of the more advanced bandages have thin strips of silver nitrate woven throughout the pad to help stop excessive bleeding.
Specialty adhesive bandages exist to attend to wound-care needs that traditional bandages do not. Food workers are required to wear special bright blue bandages that are plainly visible if they fall off, even though they boast as extra-strong adhesive. There are even adhesive bandages made specifically to treat burns. These large, clear plastic bandages are filled with a medicated gel that helps cushion and cool the burn while it heals.
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