An alginate dressing is a wound dressing which contains alginate fibers derived from seaweed. These dressings are used in the management of wounds which are producing a great deal of exudate, such as deep sores. They are available through some drug stores and also through catalogs which sell medical supplies and they may be applied by nurses or wound care specialists as well as being managed at home by patients and their caregivers.
Alginate dressings have a number of properties which appear to promote wound healing. These dressings are highly absorbent, with the dressing picking up exudate through an ion exchange reaction. Calcium ions on the dressing are swapped for sodium ions in the material which seeps from the wound, allowing the alginate to swell and slowly turn gel-like over time.
The alginate dressing is an occlusive dressing, intended to cover the whole wound. In addition to absorbing fluids which seep from the wound, these dressings also create a barrier which resists bacteria and other organisms. This reduces the risk of infection at the wound site and limits complications which may emerge during the course of recovery from the wound.
These dressings are designed for wet wounds, and they must be covered with a second dressing which will keep the alginate dressing and underlying wound moist. As wounds start to dry off, or when the wrong dressing is used to secure the alginate dressing, the dressing can adhere to the wound, causing discomfort. When the conditions are right, the dressing can be easily peeled away when it becomes gelatinous, and the wound can be irrigated with saline for a dressing change.
Companies produce alginate dressing in the form of sheets which can be applied to wounds as occlusive dressings as well as ropes which can be coiled and packed into deeper wounds. This type of dressing is not intended for use on or around mucus membranes such as those in the nose. It is also critical to switch to a different type of dressing once the flow of exudate from a wound slows down and it starts to dry out.
There are a number of different brands of alginate dressing available. Different brands perform slightly differently because they obtain their seaweed from unique sources and may have variations in processing techniques. Manufacturers usually disclose information about how absorbent their dressings are so that care providers can make an appropriate choice for a given patient.