Wound Dressing Types: A Practical Guide for Healthcare Professionals

Wound Dressing Types: A Practical Guide for Healthcare Professionals

Steven Cumper

Steven Cumper

Published in MedShop Blog

0 min read

July 9, 2024

Doctors, nurses, and others who work in healthcare often deal with injuries that require special care. Open wounds are just one example. While it may seem as simple as sticking a bandage on a patient, there are many different types of wound dressings that each serve a specific purpose.

In this article, we will discuss wound dressings, wound care, and how to know which types of wounds call for each dressing option. We’ll also cover signs of infection and how infected wounds should be treated.

Wound Dressing Types

For best results when treating wounds, you need to use the appropriate dressing type based on how the patient presents. For example, ulcers are not treated the same way as surgical incisions. Likewise, minor wounds have a different treatment protocol than necrotic wounds. Below, we will take a look at several different types of wound dressings and discuss their components and indications.

Gauze Dressings

Aside from standard adhesive bandages, gauze dressings are probably the most familiar type of wound dressing to the average person. These simple but effective bits of material are ideal for superficial wounds or open ones that may be draining. Their absorbency and sterility also make them good options for dressing infected wounds.

Gauze dressings are most commonly sold in rolls or individual sponges. This Smith & Nephew Jelonet Non-Medicated Paraffin Gauze Dressing is made from paraffin. Other options can be made from cotton, polyester, rayon, or a blend of fabrics designed to optimize absorption and softness. Gauze is generally used as a primary dressing, applied directly to the wound bed.

Non-Adherent Dressings

Non-adherent dressings are self-descriptive. These dressings do not stick to the patient’s skin, wound, or exudate. They work well for wounds that will scab over because they are unlikely to reopen the wound when removed. The Aeropad Non-Adherent Dressing is a great example and is highly rated for use on minor abrasions and lacerations.

Generally, non-adherent dressings are applied to the wound surface. The absorbent pad is then covered with a secondary dressing to hold them in place. They are usually not recommended when there is high exudate or infection present.

Foam Dressings

Foam dressings, made from polyurethane foam, are highly absorbent sponge-like dressings that are used for a wide variety of wounds. Wounds presenting with excess exudate are especially good candidates for polyurethane foam dressings due to the breathable material’s excellent absorbency.

Foam dressings, such as the Cardinal Kendall Foam Dressing, are also often used for chronic wounds. They aid in the healing process by maintaining a moist environment and reducing the risk of infection.

Hydrocolloid Dressings

Hydrocolloid dressings are sterile and waterproof. They are made with comfort in mind, keeping the wound environment moist and promoting wound healing. The inner layer is made from hydrocolloid adhesive and sticks to the wound, molding to the body and combining with exudate to create a wound-healing gel.

One hydrocolloid dressing our clients in the medical field recommend is the Sentry Osmocol Hydrocolloid Dressing, which has demonstrated success in dressing post-operative wounds. Hydrocolloid dressings are self-adhesive, and the exterior layer is typically made from a clear film.

Alginate Dressings

Alginate dressings are an innovative wound dressing that is especially effective for leg ulcers or diabetic foot ulcers. They are derived from sodium and calcium alginate, which works similarly to hydrocolloid dressing in that it combines with exudate to create a gel to support the healing wound. Coloplast Biatain Alginate dressings are a popular option for this type.

Transparent Film

You’ve likely used transparent film dressings when placing an IV, especially in a patient’s hand. They are flexible and made from polymer membranes. They’re beneficial for wound management because they protect the wound from bacteria while also allowing visibility. Our expert clients love the Smith & Nephew Opsite Flexifix Transparent Film Dressing.

Hydrogel Dressings

Hydrogel dressings are excellent options for treating burns. They are non-adherent, made from a water-soluble gel, and are widely considered the gold standard for burn treatment. Hydrogel is cooling and assists with pain management. It can be used on dry wounds, necrotic wounds, and even skin conditions such as chicken pox. Hydrogel dressings like these Burnex Hydrogel Gel Burn Dressings are great for keeping in first-aid kits for the immediate treatment of burns. They are not recommended for exudating wounds.

Antimicrobial Dressings

Another innovation in wound dressings is the antimicrobial dressing. These work great for pressure ulcers, diabetic foot ulcers, burns, and surgical wounds. They’re often made with silver, like the Smith & Nephew Acticoat Flex 3 Antimicrobial Silver Dressing. Antimicrobial dressings are top choices for lowering the risk of infection in many situations, including the premature loss of an eschar.

Negative Pressure Wound Therapy

For an advanced option in wound management, you may consider using negative pressure wound therapy, or NPWT. Another name for this technique is vacuum-assisted closure. This method utilizes suction to create a seal that promotes the ideal environment for healing. It works well for skin grafts, specifically for donor sites.

Adhesive Dressings

Adhesive dressings, like these 3M Tegaderm High Performance Foam Adhesive Dressings, are similar in function to standard bandages that you can find on the shelf at the pharmacy. More complex versions of those are made with foam or other soft materials. They are flexible, prevent skin maceration, and work well on both dry and moist wounds.

Composite Dressings

Lastly, composite dressings are multi-layered options made to treat issues like surgical wounds and some pressure ulcers. Since they are adhesive bandages, they aren’t always the best choice if the patient has sensitive skin. There are also some minor limitations, including that they have the potential to dry the wound out rather than sustaining a moist wound environment.

How to Apply Dressings to Wounds

No matter which kind of dressing you are using or what type of wound you’re treating, knowing how to properly apply the dressings is critical to the patient’s healing. Here are some tips for applying wound dressings.


To prepare to dress a wound, you need to prepare the area. First, clean your hands thoroughly. Then, take a good look at the wound to make sure there is no debris or new infection. For dressing changes, you’ll need to take off the existing dressing.

Cleaning the Wound

Clean the wound before applying any type of dressing. Depending on the wound type, the methods for cleaning the wound safely will vary. Generally, mild soap and water are a good choice.

Dressing Selection

Based on the type of wound you are treating, you can choose the right dressing for the job. Refer back to each section above for a refresher on what each dressing type is best suited for.


Carefully put the dressing on the wound. You will likely use a primary dressing to cover the wound and, if needed, a secondary dressing to hold it in place and help keep the area protected.

Monitor and Reassessment

Once the wound is properly dressed, you’ll want to keep an eye on it to make sure there are no signs of infection, excessive exudate, or other problems. If the wound drains and exudate seeps through the dressing, you may need to change it frequently or consider an alternative dressing.

Wound Dressing Overview

Wound Dressing Type

Dressing Role

Wound Type



Review Time

Gauze Dressings

Keep wounds dry

Abrasions, lacerations, draining wounds

Exudating wounds

Severe wounds, wounds that need to stay moist

1-5 days

Non-Adherent Dressings

Encourages moist environment

Burns, minor abrasions, lacerations

Exudating wounds

Dry wounds

3-7 days

Foam Dressings

Keep wounds moist, absorb exudate

Chronic wounds

Exudating wounds

Dry wounds and wounds requiring frequent review

5 days

Hydrocolloids Dressings

Keep wounds moist

Abrasions, pressure ulcers

Burns, abrasions

Dry or infected wounds

Up to 5 days

Alginate Dressings

Creates gel, promotes moist environment, relieves pain

Infected wounds, highly exudating wounds

Infection, exudating wounds

Hard eschar, dry wounds

1-5 days

Transparent Film

Visibility, pain reduction

Superficial wounds

Superficial wounds

Highly exudating wounds

Up to 7 days

Hydrogel Dressings

Absorbent as well as moisturizing

Slough, necrotic wounds

Dry wounds

Gram-negative infections


Antimicrobial Dressings

Prevent bacterial infection

Burns, open wounds


Patients with iodine sensitivity

Up to 7 days

Negative Pressure Wound Therapy

Quick healing, infection prevention

Skin grafts, burns

Dehisced wounds

Exposed organs or vasculature, infection


Adhesive Dressings

Ease of use

Cuts, burns, scrapes

Small wounds

Exudating wounds

Up to 7 days

Composite Dressings

Absorbency, coverage

Post-operative wounds, minor burns

Minor, draining wounds

Stage 4 pressure ulcers




Author: Steven John Cumper, B.App.SC. (Osteo.), M.Ost., is a businessman with a strong foundation in biomedical science and osteopathic medicine, who founded and led Medshop to international success, culminating in its acquisition by the Bunzl Group in September 2021, where he continues to serve as Managing Director (Medshop Group).

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