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What Is a Hydrocolloid Dressing?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2014
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Hydrocolloid dressings are medical bandages that are used to dry out and protect certain types of wounds. Liquid or powder hydrocolloid solutions absorb excess fluid, called exudate, from wounds to form a cushioning barrier over the lesion. Once applied, a hydrocolloid dressing promotes healing by preventing moisture and bacteria from penetrating the skin. Dressings are widely used in hospitals and surgical centers, though patients and caregivers can also obtain the bandages for ongoing wound management at home.

A hydrocolloid dressing contains a chemical agent that forms a gel when it comes into contact with wound exudate. Several types of agents are used by hydrocolloid dressing manufacturers, but the most common are gelatin, pectin, and carboxymethylcellulose. The gel layer continues to absorb exudate over the course of several days, effectively drying out the wound and giving it time to heal.

Hydrocolloid dressings come in different forms. Some dressings are applied in steps, first covering a wound in a powder hydrocolloid solution and then applying an adhesive waterproof film. Most medical professionals, however, prefer to use one-step, self-adhesive hydrocolloid dressing pads. In a self-adhesive bandage, the gel-forming agent is covered by a type of foam that helps cushion the wound. A thin film covers the foam layer and sticks to the skin around the lesion.

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Before applying a hydrocolloid dressing, it is important to thoroughly clean the wound according to a doctor's recommendations. Depending on the type of lesion, a doctor may suggest using mild soap and water, rubbing alcohol, or an antibiotic cream. If the wound is not sterilized, dirt and bacteria can be trapped underneath the dressing and lead to a potentially serious infection. With the lesion clean, the dressing can be lightly applied and smoothed out along the skin.

Hydrocolloid dressings are intended for use on mild to moderate skin ulcers and lesions that are not actively infected. They can be used on dry or wet lesions, and only need to be changed every three to five days. Self-adhesive pads come off very easily, so removing a hydrocolloid dressing is painless.

The risk of complications when using hydrocolloids is very low, but some patients experience allergic reactions. If a wound becomes painful or a skin rash develops around the site of the hydrocolloid dressing, it should be removed immediately and reported to a doctor. The physician can determine if a different type of dressing needs to be used.

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