What Are Sterile Pads?

Misty Wiser

A sterile pad is a thin piece of a cloth-like material used to protect open wounds from bacteria and other contaminants. Most sterile pads are individually packaged in a wide range of sizes. They may be made from cotton, gauze, or a material comprised of a rayon and polyester blend. Gamma radiation is used to ensure the sterilization of the pad material. Many of these pads are attached to the healthy skin around the wound with medical tape, and some are made with a hydrocolloid adhesive lining the outer edges for quick application.

A bottle of isopropyl alcohol, which is often used to moisten sterile pads.
A bottle of isopropyl alcohol, which is often used to moisten sterile pads.

Sterile pads made of gauze are used for a variety of medical and dental purposes. Physicians and nurses use these pads to protect open wounds and absorb bodily fluids. Wound dressings for heavy drainage may need several pads to keep fluid from collecting around the bandage. Dentists may use rolled up gauze pads to absorb blood and saliva after dental procedures.

Sterile pads of gauze are applied to wounds to lessen bleeding and improve clotting.
Sterile pads of gauze are applied to wounds to lessen bleeding and improve clotting.

Many kinds of sterile pads are frequently used during surgery. In addition to packing wounds during an operation to slow blood flow and absorb excess bodily fluids, they can be used as cold pack wraps when necessary. A cold therapy pad is applied to the intercostal nerves of the thoracic cage, or chest, during surgery to reduce post-thoracotomy pain common after lung surgery.

Individually wrapped gauze packs are sterile until opened.
Individually wrapped gauze packs are sterile until opened.

Most first aid kits are equipped with sterile gauze pads in an array of sizes to cover minor cuts, scrapes, and burns. Bandages with very small pads can be used to cover injured tissue. Some kits may contain a non-stick wound protector made from sterile cotton pads to allows for the movement of air throughout the bandage. These are usually secured with a medical grade adhesive tape.

A sterile pad may be placed on a patient's arm after blood has been drawn.
A sterile pad may be placed on a patient's arm after blood has been drawn.

Some sterile pads are specially designed to absorb liquid produced by an open wound without sticking to the sensitive healing tissue. The 70% rayon and 30% polyester blended material that forms these pads is ideal for allowing air to circulate within the bandage. They come in very large sizes that can be cut to fit oddly shaped wounds.

The site of an IV line placement may be cleaned with a sterile alcohol pad.
The site of an IV line placement may be cleaned with a sterile alcohol pad.

Other sterile pads are soaked with a 70% isopropyl alcohol prior to being packaged. These are used for cleaning the skin before an injection is given or blood is drawn. A nurse will likely clean the site of an intravenous (IV) line placement with one of these sterile alcohol pads. The alcohol acts as an antiseptic and anti-infective to prevent a contamination of the puncture site.

Sterile pads aren't adhesive, so they are typically wrapped in gauze or tape to hold them in place.
Sterile pads aren't adhesive, so they are typically wrapped in gauze or tape to hold them in place.

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