What is a Wound Dressing?

Diane Goettel

If you have ever gotten a small cut or scrape and put a Band-Aid® over the wound, then you are familiar with wound dressings. A wound dressing is a medical tool that is used to cover an injury. Technically, wound dressing is the sterile cotton or gauze that is applied to the wound. It is different from any tape or bands that are used to hold it in place. Since there are many medical supplies such as Band-Aids® that incorporate both dressing and bandage, they are often used interchangeably in casual language.

Gauze is a type of wound dressing.
Gauze is a type of wound dressing.

Wound dressing is particularly important to help ward off infection. It protects a wound from debris that could carry bacteria and cause infection. Before applying dressing to a wound, however, it is important to thoroughly clean the wound. This should help to wash away any foreign matter that entered the wound at the moment that the injury took place.

Minor wounds may be dressed with a Band-Aid.
Minor wounds may be dressed with a Band-Aid.

One of the most important things to remember when dressing a wound is that the materials used must be sterile. Dressings and plasters are usually packaged individually so as to keep them sterile. If you do not have a dressing on hand, use the cleanest cloth that you can find to cover the wound until you are able to obtain a sterile dressing.

An antibiotic ointment in conjunction with a dressing can prevent infection.
An antibiotic ointment in conjunction with a dressing can prevent infection.

It is advisable to use an antibiotic ointment or cream in addition to a wound dressing to minimize the risk of infection. Even wounds that are properly cleaned and dressed can become infected. An antibiotic ointment or cream will help to further reduce this risk.

Medical cloth tapes are used to secure wound dressings.
Medical cloth tapes are used to secure wound dressings.

If you are using a wound dressing such as gauze or cotton, it is important to keep it in place with a bandage. While Band-Aids® and plasters can be used for small injuries, dressings are more useful for wounds that affect large areas of the body. If, for example, you fell while riding a bicycle and scraped your entire forearm, you would probably need to have that entire area dressed with cotton or gauze and then secured with bandaging tape.

Wound dressings are used to cover injuries.
Wound dressings are used to cover injuries.

When you are dressing a wound, be sure to follow first aid guidelines. If you are not familiar with first aid guidelines, try to find someone who is. Also, if you are ever in doubt about the severity of an injury, you should make sure to consult a medical professional. A medical professional can assess the wound and decide what kind of treatment and dressing is best.

Wounds are often dressed with sterile gauze.
Wounds are often dressed with sterile gauze.
Immediate cleaning and bandaging of cuts will help prevent staph infection.
Immediate cleaning and bandaging of cuts will help prevent staph infection.

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Discussion Comments


In hospitals today, they have some very good supplies and methods of dressing wounds after surgery and in cases of injury. These supplies have cut the risk of infection way down.

There is always some danger of infection whenever you open up the body, but proper care of wounds really helps. If a patient leaves the hospital soon after surgery, a family member is often taught how to change the dressing, taking care to keep it clean. And,of course, antibiotics help even more.


Whenever I hear the term wound dressing, I think about the wars. Women back home would get into groups and prepare wound dressings and bandages to be sent to the battle fields.

I have heard that so many wounded soldiers died from infection from wounds that weren't kept clean or the dressing wasn't clean in the first place.

During the Civil War, with so many wounded soldiers, I don't know what they could do to prevent infection, with no antibiotics, and often no way to clean the wound.

Thank heavens, antibiotics were finally discovered.


It is always a good idea to keep a decent first aid kit in your home. I am a bit accident prone myself so my mom finally told me to learn how to do my own wound dressing.

Right now all I do is wrap a thing of gauze around the area whenever I get cut, but I suppose that isn't the best way. I have read that adhesive wound dressings are a lot better because they stay in place and don't move around as much.

Has anyone tried using paper stitches on larger cuts? I really hate having to go into the hospital every time I wipe out on my bike.


My mother recently had surgery and she has to have nurses in every day to do her wound dressing. I was talking to them and asking them what they were doing and apparently they are using what is called moist dressings on her to speed up her healing. Duoderm wound dressings are supposed to be really good at preventing infection while keeping the wound clean.

What is interesting to me about the dressings is that the nurse told me that actually form a gel like barrier over the wound. Instead of just drying out the area and making it hurt, the moisture allows you to heal more naturally. I think I may try and find some smaller moist bandages for the next time I get hurt.


I always try to use wound dressing when I get a bug bite, a bee sting, or something like poison ivy on me when I'm outside. I think it helps the swelling and itching of those sorts of injuries to go away faster.


I have luckily not had very many injuries that needed wound dressings. The most I've needed in the past is the kind of slightly adhesive would dressing that nurses put on your arm when you donate blood or have a blood test taken. I'm actually not even sure if that counts as a wound dressing, but it's at least more than a band aid.

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