What is a Trauma Dressing?

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  • Written By: Vanessa Harvey
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2019
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A trauma dressing is a bandage used to treat open wounds by covering them in order to help keep out foreign objects and contaminants such as dirt and debris. They also are used to help stop bleeding, to help stabilize impaled objects and to prevent pneumothorax, a life-threatening condition, from developing. Pneumothorax is the medical term for the presence of atmospheric air inside the chest cavity. There are many types of dressing; each one is used for a specific purpose in cases of a specific type of trauma.

Emergency medical technicians and paramedics almost always apply a special trauma dressing known as an occlusive dressing to patients suffering from a gunshot wound to the chest, a deep laceration or a puncture or perforation to the neck. These trauma bandages are made of a thick plastic or are petroleum-gel-impregnated gauze. Aluminum foil also has been used successfully in the absence of occlusive dressings to form an airtight seal over a wound.

There is a very delicate balance of pressure in the chest cavity that, when disturbed by the entrance of outside air, can result in the collapse of a lung. The occlusive trauma dressing is used to make a flutter valve bandage. This allows outside air that has entered the chest to escape when the patient exhales and prevents outside air from entering when he or she inhales.


The occlusive trauma dressing also is used to treat wounds to the neck because pressure in a large vein tends to be lower than the pressure of the atmosphere. This creates the risk of an air bubble being sucked into the bloodstream via a vein. Health care providers will apply a trauma dressing of this type to help prevent an air bubble from entering and traveling to the heart, where it could cause cardiac arrest, or stoppage of the heart. A universal or bulky trauma dressing is employed when attempting to stop life-threatening bleeding from very deep wounds and for helping to stabilize an impaled object.

Trauma pads, like all bandages, should be sterile, but everyday items such as sanitary napkins and small pillows have been employed successfully in the absence of this type of trauma dressing. When used to stabilized an impaled object, these pads are usually stacked one on top of the other until most of the object protruding from the body is covered, after which cravats can be used to secure everything. Another type of dressing is the pressure dressing used to control bleeding when a wound is not excessively large. Gauze pads are placed over the wound, and a universal bandage is placed over these pads.


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