A deep cut or other lingering wound might require special aid in order to heal. Hydrocolloid dressings exist for this purpose. The word hydrocolloid combines the Greek roots hydro for water and colloid for glue. Hydrocolloid dressings provide moisture and insulation to help uninfected wounds heal faster. They usually contain gel-forming agents and have a waterproof backing, keeping outside bacteria from infecting a wound while it heals.
What are Hydrocolloid Dressings?
A hydrocolloid dressing looks like a bandage or patch that goes over a wound. The dressings are notable for their waterproof backing, which has a notably different texture than a typical adhesive strip. Looking at the bottom side of hydrocolloid dressings, an observer can see a gel-like center that goes over a fresh wound. You can buy hydrocolloid dressings in a variety of shapes, sizes, and levels of thickness. Many come with an adhesive border, but some come without one. For wound areas that are difficult to dress, such as elbows, knees, and heels, you can purchase specialty hydrocolloid dressings that are specially shaped to adhere to those problem areas.
How Do Hydrocolloid Dressings Work?
The key component in hydrocolloid dressings are the gel-forming substance that comes in contact with the wound. This substance usually contains pectin, carboxy-methylcellulose, polymers, and other adhesives. When put into use, the gel-forming substance within hydrocolloid dressings absorbs fluid and swells. This creates a healing gel, but that gel remains confined within the dressings. The expanding gel and the waterproof backing creates an impermeable seal that keeps bacteria and moisture away from the wound. In this way, hydrocolloid dressings speed up the healing process by dramatically reducing the risk of infection or the chance that foreign substances such as dirt and debris might come into contact with the wound while it heals.
What is the Purpose of a Hydrocolloid Dressing?
Hydrocolloid dressings fulfill three main purposes. First, they keep wounds clean and uninfected. Because the shape of a hydrocolloid dressing can be customized to the wounded area, they can even create a tight seal around an elbow or other joint. Secondly, they keep wounds free of dirt and debris. Hydrocolloid dressings are usually applied and left on the wound for several days, which means that there is no changing of dressings that might leave a wound temporarily exposed to debris that might get stuck in a forming scab. Finally, they keep a wound dry with almost no drainage. Bacteria thrives in moisture, so the ability for a hydrocolloid dressing to keep a wound completely dry helps eliminate the risk of infection during the healing process.
When Should Hydrocolloid Dressings be Used?
Hydrocolloid dressings are best used on wounds that need time to heal. If you are worried about a wound getting wet or infected, or if you worry that a standard dressing might stick to the wound, a hydrocolloid dressing is a good option. These dressings are excellent for granular and necrotic wounds as well as for sensitive areas of the skin that need extra protection during the healing process. Many other adhesive dressings can stick to the wound and tear a scab open upon removal. Since hydrocolloid dressings touch the wound only with the healing gel-forming substance, that is not a concern. You should consider the use of a hydrocolloid dressing for areas where you skin is still healing or if you have concerns about water or debris getting into the wounded area.
Because they remain on the skin for several days at a time, hydrocolloid dressings are not ideal for wounds that need regular assessment. If you expect to pull aside the dressing regularly and check on the wound, a hydrocolloid dressing will serve as more of a hindrance than a help. If you already have an infected wound, you should use a different kind of dressing—in this case, a hydrocolloid dressing would seal the bacteria creating the infection in with the rest of the wound, slowing the healing process. Finally, if you have a wound that needs occasional exposure to air, a hydrocolloid dressing is not your best choice. Hydrocolloid dressings should be applied when it is safe to leave the dressing on for a long period of time and when the wound does not need routing checks or maintenance.
Are Hydrocolloid Dressings Waterproof?
With very few exceptions, hydrocolloid dressings are waterproof. This means that you can shower, bathe, or even swim without having to worry about getting your wound area wet. While some wound dressings require a plastic bag or other waterproof barrier to keep water out during a shower, this is not a problem with a hydrocolloid dressing. Nonetheless, you should make sure to double-check the package containing your hydrocolloid dressing just to be on the safe side. Exceptions to the rule that hydrocolloid dressings are waterproof do sometimes occur, and using a non-waterproof dressing by mistake may slow the healing process down or leave you open for infection.
Hydrocolloid Dressings with Diabetic Patients
Individuals who have diabetes often need to take extra care of their health in order to avoid complications. While hydrocolloid dressings are safe for individuals with diabetes, they should be applied cautiously. This especially applies to foot wounds, as diabetic individuals are often likely to suffer loss of sensation or even necrosis in their feet. Because a wound on the foot requires regular checking, hydrocolloid dressings are not the ideal wound treatment in these cases. You should only use a hydrocolloid dressing on diabetic feet if your doctor recommends it. Even then, make sure that you follow the doctor's orders precisely on when to remove the dressing and what warning signs you should look for to avoid risk of infection.
Hydrocolloid dressings are an excellent solution for many wounds, especially if you want to be extra careful in avoiding the risk of infection. You can find these dressings in many medical supply stores, and your doctor may provide you with some for the treatment of certain wounds. Keep the information above in mind, and you should be able to use these dressings effectively.