What are Dressing Forceps?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2019
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Dressing forceps are forceps which were originally designed to hold gauze and other dressings, although they have since been adapted for other purposes. They are a common tool in the surgical tool kit as well as in the emergency room and many medical offices. Medical supply companies typically sell a range of dressing forceps, including versions which are designed for use in autopsies and necropsies, rather than in surgery. Certain versions may not be approved for use with human patients, in which case they will be labeled “not for human use.”

There are several basic variations on the classic dressing forceps. In some some cases, these forceps look like tweezers, with a blunted tip which is slightly raspy so that the forceps will have some traction. Other designs have scissor-like handles, and the forceps can also be curved, which may be useful for working in close quarters or dealing with particular kinds of situations. They also come in different sizes for different applications and different-sized hands.


In addition to being used to hold gauze, dressing forceps can also be used during wound debridement, to pull out pieces of infected or dead tissue, remove foreign material in a wound, or pull back the skin to better visualize the area of an injury. These forceps can also be used for handling sutures. If they are used during surgery, they will be logged and counted out at the end of the procedure along with other instruments used in the operating room to ensure that no instruments are lost inside the patient.

Like other medical instruments, dressing forceps are designed to be sterilized, so that they can be fully cleaned between patients. Sterilization takes place with the assistance of specialized soaps and a period of time in an autoclave, which heats and pressurizes surgical instruments to kill harmful organisms which could be transferred from patient to patient. For autopsy, sterilization is also used to avoid cross-contamination of samples; it is important to know, for example, that bacteria found during an autopsy or necropsy arrived with the body, rather than being transported with the instruments used for the examination.

Certain health threats cannot be removed with common sterilization methods. Unusual proteins known as prions, for example, will survive through soap and autoclaving. In procedures where prions may be present, surgical instruments must be discarded after use to avoid passing them on to another patient. Prions are most infamously responsible for a family of neurological conditions known as spongiform encephalopathies.


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